ANNAPOLIS, Md. - There was a time not too long ago that the thought of Navy even competing with national football powers was a dream at best.
Now, when Navy takes the field, it not only expect to compete; it expects to win.
Success has become commonplace in Annapolis over the past decade and the Midshipmen are optimistic that will continue heading into the 2014 campaign, which kicks off Aug. 30 against national power Ohio State at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. That game is a rematch of a 2009 contest in which Navy lost 31-27 after Ohio State intercepted a potential tying 2-point conversion in the closing minutes and returned it for two points the other way.
“Winning and success are part of the culture here at Navy,” said senior linebacker Chris Johnson. “We know what the expectations are and those before us helped lay the foundation. It’s up to us to continue to build upon that.”
Navy enters its 2014 campaign coming off one of its most successful season. In 2013, the Mids finished 9-4, qualified for a bowl game for the 10th time in the last 11 years and won a bow game for just the eighth time in school history with a 24-6 victory over Middle Tennessee State in the Armed Forces Bowl.
More importantly for many associated with Navy, the Midshipmen enter this season having won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the ninth time in 11 years. The trophy is awarded to the winner of the annual competition between Navy, Army and Air Force. During that span, Navy has also defeated Army a series record 12 straight times.
“The tradition we have here is something special,” Johnson said. “Winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy is always our goal and one we know takes a lot of work to accomplish.”
Among the constants for Navy during its run of success has been head coach Ken Niumatalolo. Navy is 49-30 under Niumatalolo since he was promoted from offensive line coach on Dec. 7, 2007 to replace Paul Johnson, who left to become head coach at Georgia Tech.
“We always have optimism until you start practicing then you realize you have a lot of work,” Niumatalolo said. “It’s a great reality check for our team. It doesn’t matter if you have all 22 starters coming back. Last year was last year. This is a whole new year with a new team and building new chemistry. Nothing that happened last year carries over. “
Continuity also extends beyond Niumatalolo. Seven of the team’s assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper and defensive coordinator Buddy Green, have been with the program for at least a decade; a distinction almost unheard of in today’s nomadic world of college football coaches.
“I think the success of our program has been our players and our assistant coaches,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have guys stay here through the years. It’s a great place to live and raise a family. More importantly we coach wonderful young men and those I feel are the best in the country. Others recognize that and they don’t want to leave.”
Count quarterback Keenan Reynolds among those players who was drawn to the coaching continuity as part of the reason he came to Navy.
Reynolds, a junior, is coming off one of the greatest individual seasons in Navy football history. Last year, Reynolds rushed for 1,346 yards and an NCAA quarterback-record 31 touchdowns while throwing for 1,057 yards and eight scores. He was just the fourth player at any position in NCAA history to rush for at least 30 touchdowns.
“We have built a tradition of winning here and I’m just glad to be a part of it,” Reynolds said. “We can’t dwell on last season. Now it’s time to look ahead and get ready for Ohio State.”
Tickets are still available for Navy’s season opener against sixth ranked Ohio State on Saturday, August 30th at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Kickoff is set for 12 noon. Tickets are $75 for the lower and upper levels and $125 for club seats. To purchase tickets, call 1-800-US4-NAVY or you can buy them on the web here .