ANNAPOLIS — By the very nature of Navy's triple option offense, the Midshipmen's wide receivers are rarely noticed.
The group is perhaps more anonymous than ever this season. And that might be a good thing.
"I think we have a group of guys that finally know what it takes to be a Navy wideout," senior Doug Furman said. "We've always had guys in the past that wanted to be the Randy Mosses and stuff like that, but this group of guys has finally realized we're going to make plays and we're going to make hits and once these defenses start biting, we're going to start catching these big balls in the end zone."
Catches will have to come later; the group has 14 through four games for the Mids (2-2), who play host to Southern Mississippi (4-1) on Saturday. Still, the wideouts will have a significant influence in whether Navy recovers from consecutive losses to begin a push toward a ninth consecutive bowl invitation.
The unit is a reflection of receivers coach Mick Yokitis, a first-year assistant who started at wideout as a senior at Navy in 2005. Much like Furman, he was an enforcer and physical presence while creating opportunities for others.
The Mids entered the season needing to replace Greg Jones, whose 662 receiving yards last fall were the most for a Navy player since 1984. None of the remaining wideouts possessed well-defined reputations, which made reinforcing the need for selfless play even easier.
"I think it was established," Yokitis said. "I think when I came in I just made sure I stuck my foot down and said 'I know how it was, and I know how it's going to be.' "
It helped to have Furman, a 6-foot-3, 201-pounder who relishes dishing out three hours of contact to defensive backs. Junior Brandon Turner, who recovered an onside kick near the end of regulation in Saturday's loss to Air Force, improved his blocking this season and has impressed as an all-around wideout.
Then there's Matt Aiken, a sophomore who has caught a pass every week and has emerged much as coaches hoped he would in the preseason.
Together, the wideouts have helped Navy uncork 12 runs of at least 20 yards, including five long touchdowns.
"Every time we have a big play, it's because of a wide receiver making a big block downfield," fullback Alexander Teich said. "You're going to get those inside runs for 10 yards and a lot of that is the [slotbacks] blocking inside, but when you get those big ones, those long ones, that's all about the receivers downfield."
Aiken said it seems opponents grow frustrated with the relentless blocking as games wind on. And the Mids keep coming, even if they don't receive much credit.
Is that a problem for the rugged unit? Hardly, especially if a big block creates a chunk play for the offense.
"That, to me, is [like] catching a 70-yard touchdown pass," Furman said.
Maintaining such an attitude is critical for an unheralded group. But as Navy tries to end a two-game skid, coach Ken Niumatalolo stresses the importance of selflessness and pointing the entire roster in the same direction.
The Mids could probably take a cue from their wideouts, who have embraced those traits all season.
"They're playing like we want them to play," Niumatalolo said. "They're unsung heroes. A lot of our big runs, they've sprung them. When we throw them the ball, they've caught the football. They've been doing exactly what we've asked them to do."
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