- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

It looks like a normal-sized senior class for a college football team, 18 kids from 14 different states. Not so at the Naval Academy, where a lack of scholarship restrictions normally means in excess of 30 players suit up on Senior Day at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The class of 2005 is a bit different. This group’s first day of practice was also Paul Johnson’s first as head coach. Most of the players were wooed by Johnson’s predecessor, Charlie Weatherbie, whose approach to recruiting was to hoard and then assess once they were at the academy.

A result of Johnson’s new regime was a large amount of attrition. This class is half the size of the one from a season ago.

“The past two senior classes that were here were great classes,” senior quarterback Lamar Owens said. “We have guys that are seniors now that it is their first time playing and I wouldn’t say they are bad players. … Some guys couldn’t wait to play until their senior years to play. The guys that we have here now, it is a tribute to them that they were willing to stick it out and see this thing through.”

There are only seven starters in the bunch — four on offense, two on defense and punter Eric Shuey. Of the rest, a few see part-time duty or contribute on special teams.

While this is a team dominated by juniors and sophomores, those few seniors who play their final home game today against winless Temple will be remembered as part of the Navy football turnaround.

With a win the Mids (5-4) will gain bowl eligibility and could make a postseason appearance for the third consecutive season — something never accomplished in program history. After losing so many starters from last season’s team that won 10 games, a step backward seemed unavoidable.

Owens is the most prominent member of the group. A co-captain with defensive lineman Jeremy Chase, Owens’ play has been both brilliant and suspect, but more often than not he has been steady and the offense has not faltered with new faces.

Slotback Marco Nelson has been electric at times. Linebacker Jake Biles is second on the team with 82 tackles. Wideout Mick Yokitis has one catch for 14 yards, but remains one of the most important cogs in the option machine because of his ability to block. Shuey and Chase have been solid if unspectacular.

A trip to a bowl game and retaining the Commander-In-Chief’s trophy with a win against Army in two weeks could be enough for this group’s legacy.

“I think they’ve had a huge part in hopefully getting the program turned around somewhat,” Johnson said. “The first year [with a 2-10 record] wasn’t very good for them as freshmen, but if we can finish this season, the last three years will have been much better in helping establish the program.”

Notes — The Mids will be without starting fullback Matt Hall, who tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee on his first carry against Notre Dame. Hall, second on the team with 493 rushing yards, also likely will miss spring practice but should be ready for his senior season. He will be replaced by sophomore Adam Ballard, who had 45 yards and a touchdown last week against the Fighting Irish. …

Brad Bowlin will be the first member of the brigade this season to assume the 12th Mid role. Bowlin, who was a pitcher for the junior varsity baseball team as a freshman, will wear No.12 and take the field on the first Navy kickoff off the game. …

There will be no bowl representatives in attendance today. The Liberty and Poinsettia Bowls remain the likely options for the Mids.

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