- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2004

Delaware won last season’s NCAA Division I-AA football championship convincingly. There was only one blemish on the Blue Hens’ record — and it wasn’t administered by Navy.

Delaware’s loss was to Atlantic 10 foe Northeastern — a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed in Annapolis, where Navy (1-0) will play host to the Huskies (1-0) today at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

“I don’t think we really looked past Delaware,” fullback Kyle Eckel said of the Midshipmen’s 21-17 loss Oct. 25 in Annapolis. “Maybe we did, maybe we didn’t. [Northeastern is] going to come out here and play in front of a bigger crowd than they’re used to, and they’re going to have a lot of fun. I remember in high school going to bigger stadiums and getting pumped by the crowd even though they were cheering against us.”

The game is the first of two tussles with I-AA opponents this season for the Mids (Delaware returns Oct.30), who have not started a season 2-0 since topping Rutgers and Southern Methodist to open the 1996 campaign.

Navy coach Paul Johnson is quite familiar with the I-AA ranks after five years as coach at Georgia Southern. Johnson won two national titles with the Eagles and played games against such bigger foes as Oregon State and Georgia.

“When I was coaching at Georgia Southern, we didn’t look at it any differently than playing anybody else,” Johnson said. “It was another opportunity. We were probably a little different, because we were one of the premier I-AA schools, but it was a great opportunity to play in front of more people than you normally would have. You sell your guys on the fact this is your chance to show people that you’re a Division I player.”

Northeastern devastated Division II Cheyney 71-0 in its opener. The Huskies rolled up 563 yards of total offense, with most of the starters playing half the game or less.

Many of the elite I-AA schools thrive with players who transferred from I-A institutions. Northeastern has eight of these players, including defensive tackle Andre Taylor, who transferred from Tennessee, and backup quarterback Sean Cassidy, who came from Michigan.

Liam Ezekiel, a 245-pound middle linebacker who is one of the top defensive players in I-AA and a legitimate NFL prospect, anchors the Huskies’ defense.

“The athletes are similar,” Johnson said. “The only difference is, you have 85 scholarships in Division I, and in I-AA you have 63 scholarships for 85 players. You can break them up and still sign 85 guys because some schools use financial aid and other things. The biggest thing is depth. There’s a difference, don’t get me wrong, in the upper echelon of the I-As, but I think the difference between the upper I-AAs and I-As is far closer.”

Wide receiver Amir Jenkins (right knee) is expected to play for Navy today. He and right tackle Casey Hughes (left ankle) missed the Duke game. Johnson said Wednesday night that Hughes is still questionable, but he is listed as the backup right tackle on this week’s depth chart.

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