- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — A year ago, Navy’s football team entered the preseason with few starters returning and question marks at nearly every position.

When the Midshipmen open fall practice tomorrow, familiar faces will abound. Sixteen starters return from a team that won eight games, a second consecutive bowl game and a third straight Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy.

But coach Paul Johnson made it clear yesterday that maintaining the program’s recent success — 26 wins and three bowl games in three seasons — is something this team is not entitled to.

“We’ve got to remember how we got to where we are, with hard work and determination and grit,” Johnson said. “There is such a thin line between winning and losing, and it is really easy to take a step back.

“For us to be good we need to play right on the edge. We need to be scared of what’s going to happen if we don’t play well.”

For the fourth consecutive season, the Mids will enter camp with a new leader of their potent triple-option attack. Senior Brian Hampton is the third straight quarterback (after Aaron Polanco in 2004 and Lamar Owens last season) to complete a three-year apprenticeship before taking the job.

He will lead a unit with plenty of seasoned options at the skill positions and a nearly intact offensive line.

“I think the expectation level is high, and the mind-set is that we can’t be satisfied with what we did [on offense] last year or the year before,” junior slotback Reggie Campbell said. “We feel like there is more to accomplish.”

The defense is also stocked with returning starters and lettermen that played behind them. Three of the four starting linebackers are back, and there should be a fierce competition between sophomore Clint Sovie, senior Joe Cylc and junior Irv Spencer for the fourth spot.

A reshuffled secondary could need some time to adjust, but the pieces are in place to improve after finishing last season ranked 66th in the country against both the run and the pass.

“We actually ended on kind of a poor note. Colorado State put up a lot of passing yards against us [in the Poinsettia Bowl],” senior cornerback Jeremy McGown said of a game in which Campbell rushed for three touchdowns and caught two others. “Luckily that was overshadowed by a great overall performance by the whole team, especially the offense. But we still kind of have a bitter taste in our mouths about that.”

Johnson did express concern about the kicking game, particularly the loss of two-year starter Eric Shuey at punter. But it is clear the talent is in place in Annapolis for another successful season.

Four consecutive CIC trophies and bowl appearances would be an unprecedented run of success for the program.

“I am always scared. I think if you’re not, you are going to get beat,” Johnson said. “We’ve got some guys that have played, so when the games start they might not be all big-eyed and looking around. Sometimes that can be good, and sometimes that can be not so good.

“Would I rather have [16] starters coming back than six? Yeah, but it still doesn’t give us any points. We when start the game against East Carolina on Sept. [2], they aren’t going to say, ‘Navy gets to start ahead 7-0 because they have more returners.’” It is good in some ways, but I think it is all in how they react. The guys coming back can’t be satisfied.”

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