- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2003

When preseason talk turned to the possibility of Navy’s Paul Johnson playing a handful of freshmen, the second-year coach made his preference clear.

“I was the head coach at Georgia Southern for five years and we played two freshmen,” Johnson said in August. “Every other freshman redshirted. We didn’t even play Adrian Peterson [now with the Chicago Bears] when he was a freshman.”

Nevertheless, injuries will force Johnson to start a pair of freshmen today against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. At Navy, coaching takes on an added challenge.

Redshirting isn’t an option at the academy, where student/athlete is not an oxymoron and Midshipmen graduate in four years, period. As a result, this year’s class of freshmen have a chance to get on the field before many of their peers at non-service academy schools.

Safety Kevin Newsome will make his first start for the Mids (3-2) in place of injured Josh Smith, the team’s leading tackler. Linebacker David Mahoney gets his second consecutive start after registering 11 tackles in last weekend’s upset of Air Force. Cornerback Keenan Little won’t start but has seen action in every game this season and will continue to enter as the fifth defensive back when the Mids shift to their nickel package.

Newsome was thrown into the lineup against the Falcons when injuries temporarily forced Smith and cornerback Vaughn Kelley to the sideline. Johnson estimated that Newsome was in for 20 snaps last weekend, and that total surely will increase today.

“I’ve tried to keep going through the same routine as I had been,” Newsome said of practice this week. “Other people, though, they’re looking at it a little differently — looking at me like ‘what are you going to do to step up?’”

Newsome will be under pressure from a Vanderbilt team looking to impress a homecoming crowd anticipating its first win over a Division I-A school this season. Vanderbilt (1-5) has dropped four in a row and sunk to familiar territory — the bottom of the Southeastern Conference.

Newsome and the Mids need to prevent the Commodores from jumping ahead early and letting their fans into the game. The Mids have evaded the deep ball all season, and if Newsome and roving safety Eli Sanders can keep opposing receivers in front of them, that success should continue.

“I have confidence in Kevin,” Johnson said. “He’ll be fine. We’re not going to ask him to win the game for us.”

Johnson didn’t ask Mahoney to win last week’s game against Air Force, but that didn’t stop him from turning in a fine performance as the Mids’ first freshman starter since 2000. Little also is primed for a breakout game after earning the most amount of playing time of the three freshmen.

Though Johnson has adapted to his new coaching situation, he still carries a bit of the old philosophy with him.

“Know the good thing about freshmen?” he asked. “They become sophomores.”

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