Tuesday, December 20, 2005

After Navy’s 38-17 victory against Temple last month, senior quarterback Lamar Owens sat in front of a small gathering of media as he did following almost every game this season.

Owens was asked about running over a Temple defender en route to the end zone, and his response brought raucous laughter. It was a different side of Owens, something he didn’t always let people outside the program see.

“That’s really who I am,” Owens said. “I probably was more reserved at the beginning of the season because we hadn’t proved anything. As the end of the year came around, we can look back on it and joke. You can probably ask any of these guys — I’m probably one of the first guys to crack a joke to get the team going. That’s how I’ve always been.”

Owens will get one more chance to be funny tomorrow night — provided the Midshipmen beat Colorado State at the first Poinsettia Bowl at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium. But win or lose, the atmosphere around Navy football will be far different than several months ago.

When the season began, Owens was a first-year starter among many new faces. The program had been to bowl games in consecutive seasons, but there were many questions about the immediate future — and Owens was at the top of the list.

In his only season as a starter, predecessor Aaron Polanco led a veteran squad to 10 wins in 2004. But Owens did not have near the game experience Polanco collected as a backup, and his supporting cast was equally green.

When the Mids shrugged off a sloppy first half and dispatched the Owls on Nov. 19, it made Navy bowl eligible for a third consecutive season. For a small senior class led by Owens, it finally was a chance to exhale.

“Over the course of this season, I felt like I had a lot of pressure on me, and I’m feeling pretty relieved right now that we accomplished most of our goals,” Owens said. “I’m more humble now because of what we went through this season, and we’re still able to play in a bowl game and go to San Diego.”

Like Polanco a year earlier, Owens has the offense rolling into the bowl game. The Mids ran away from Temple in the second half and two weeks later crushed Army 42-23 with an unparalleled offensive display in the storied history of the series. And tomorrow Owens will lead an offense brimming with confidence.

“[At the beginning of the year,] I think everybody was pretty [reserved],” senior tackle Marshall Green said. “We were really so young and so inexperienced. You don’t show up to a fight talking smack if you don’t know you can fight. As we’ve played during the year, we’ve got more confident.

“From the beginning of the year to now, [Owens] has gotten more assertive, definitely taken the reins more. If somebody’s not focused enough, he does a good job of reining us in.”

Owens has played well for most of the season. His biggest obstacle has been early turnovers — specifically throwing an interception on the team’s first possession. He has tossed eight passes to the wrong team, and four have come the first time Navy has touched the ball.

He has no interceptions in the past four games, however, and his 10.3 yards a pass attempt would be a school record, eclipsing Polanco’s 9.9 mark of a season ago. He needs just 15 total yards tomorrow to surpass 2,000 for the season; he has 1,155 passing and a team-best 830 rushing.

“I think in the last half of the season I’ve concentrated on giving him [a game plan] with stuff that he does better,” coach Paul Johnson said. “Anytime you have a new quarterback, it is a learning process for me as a play-caller. I try to put him in plays that give him a chance to be successful. He was probably revved up a little too tight, too excited, and wanted to make too many plays himself.”

Owens never thought he would end up at a place like Annapolis. He attended Benedictine Military School in Savannah, Ga., but was set to play for Johnson at Georgia Southern. When Johnson moved to Navy, he coaxed Owens into joining him.

After tomorrow Owens will stop preparing for football games and ready himself for life in the Navy. Both Johnson and quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper have called him a natural leader. Soon he will apply that skill on a ship. And wherever he is, Owens will be recognized as the quarterback from a successful Navy football team.

“Maybe some of the officers who are grads of the academy will look at me and know what I’ve been through,” Owens said. “Hopefully, everything that I’ve been working on the past four years out here as far as trying to be a leader will carry over in the Navy.”

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