- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Last season a quarterback with little game experience led Navy to one of the most successful seasons in program history. Lamar Owens had a passenger-side seat the entire year, watching Aaron Polanco and his teammates etch their names into Midshipmen lore while racking up 10 wins and defeating New Mexico in the Emerald Bowl.

When the 2005 season starts Saturday against Maryland, the keys will be in Owens’ hands, and he will be trying to maintain a level of success unprecedented in Annapolis in more than two decades.

“As far as the [option] reads are concerned, I feel I’m ready,” Owens said. “It’s just getting the right mind-set to lead the team for four quarters. I’ve got to get ready to do that for the first time in a while.”

Owens, a senior from Savannah, Ga., came to the academy with coach Paul Johnson after originally committing to Georgia Southern, Johnson’s previous post. Owens was no stranger to the lifestyle at a military institution because he prepped at Benedictine Military School.

Diminutive at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, Owens ran the option offense in high school and has spent three years learning Johnson’s system. He may not be the passer Polanco was, but neither was Craig Candeto, Polanco’s predecessor.



Owens will have to stay healthy. He has dealt with several minor injuries during his first three seasons.

“Like with Aaron last year, I really don’t know what to expect from him,” quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper said. “I think Lamar will play smart football. I think he’ll get us in the right play and he’ll make smart decisions. I just hope he can make those kinds of plays that you can’t coach like Aaron did last year.”

Uncertainty is a theme at nearly every position for the Mids, who lost 37 lettermen. Navy and Northern Illinois return the fewest starters in the nation, six.

This season is Johnson’s fourth since leaving Georgia Southern. The senior class is small, partly because it was the freshman group when Johnson arrived and he had a late recruiting start.

Owens might be short in comparison to other quarterbacks, but he stands at eye-level with the rest of his backfield. Fullback Matt Hall and slotbacks Marco Nelson and Reggie Campbell all stand 5-9 or shorter. They will have help from wideout Jason Tomlinson, whom Johnson cited as the best player on the offensive side of the ball during spring practice.

The offensive line has a few players who have started games, but it is primarily a new group.

Right guard Antron Harper is the smallest projected starting lineman in the country at 249 pounds, but he may be one of the unit’s best. Johnson has said he would be happy to have five Harpers on the line.

“We have a lot of question marks,” offensive line coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We like the way the guys are working, and we like the kids we’re working with, but it’s a lot of inexperience.”

There are plenty of holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball as well. Co-captain Jeremy Chase is the lone returnee on the defensive line. Junior David Mahoney will have three new running mates at linebacker, but the group should be one of the team’s strengths. Mahoney had a penchant for big plays last season. Rob Caldwell, Jake Biles and Tyler Tidwell are all bigger and faster than the players they are replacing.

The secondary appeared to have the most returning experience before cornerback Hunter Reddick left the academy and transferred to Maryland. Jeremy McGown has moved from safety to corner, and he will be flanked by either Greg Thrasher or Ketric Buffin, who are listed at 5-8 and 5-7, respectively. Safeties Keenan Little and DuJuan Price have more game experience than most of the new starters.

“We have the talent to be there. We just have to come together in this first game,” Chase said. “A lot of people are going to have to grow up real fast. I think we can have a great defense this year. We have more speed than we’ve ever had.”

This season almost certainly will be Johnson’s biggest challenge since his first year. The foundation for success was laid by the two previous teams. Having a winning season, making a bowl appearance and retaining the Commander-In-Chief’s trophy are all attainable goals and would represent the kind of consistent success not seen since George Welsh left in 1981.

Johnson will have to do it with a group of largely untested players.

“That’s what I love about this time of year,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting to me that we get to start over every year. This year’s going to be a huge challenge for us. We’re young, young, young.”

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