Texas is familiar port of call for Navy

Houston Bowl offers taste of home for many Mids trying to pull rank on Tech

College Football

December 17, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The eyes of Texas will be upon a host of Texans playing in the Houston Bowl on Dec. 30, and not all of them will be suited up for the in-state entry, Texas Tech.

Navy will invade the city with its share of homebred players, including three starters on an offensive line that has cleared the way for the Midshipmen to lead the nation in rushing offense.

A nationally based team, Navy has listed 35 states as the homes of team members since fall practice, but the predominant area is Texas, which has had 29 players involved in the program in one way or another this season. Of the 100 Midshipmen who will dress for the game, 19 are Texas natives.

"Everybody back home is real excited," said starting right tackle Casey Hughes, who was born in Houston and resides nearby. "After we went to Rice [a 38-6 victory], I figured that would be our last trip to Houston. I thought we wouldn't get a chance to go back."

It is no coincidence that Navy's offensive line has five Texans listed on the three-deep chart since offensive line coach Todd Spencer is responsible for recruiting in Texas. He has also helped bring in other key players - like starting wide receiver Lionel Wesley, backup quarterback Aaron Polanco and freshman defensive back DuJuan Price.

"I had never even heard of the Naval Academy until Coach Spencer recruited me," said Hughes.

Left offensive tackle Nick Wilson - from Tomball, north of Houston - attended Oilers games as a youth and switched allegiance to the Tennessee Titans when the franchise moved.

He said the Texans on the Navy team gang up on teammates from other states when the subject is the quality of high school football.

"Especially the kids from Pennsylvania," said Wilson. "We give them a hard time when they start with Pennsylvania being the best."

Wilson said he hopes Texas Tech "doesn't take us seriously. Everyone thinks it's going to be a blowout on their part. They've got a lot of guys from Texas, and Texans are pretty cocky. I hope they think we're not too good."

Left guard Dennis Ray Phillips is from Katy, the hometown of Roger Clemens. His team won the state Class 5-A championship in his senior year.

"We played all the way until Dec. 23 and won it with a 16-0 record," he said. "All of us linemen are always talking about which one of us came from the best district in Texas."

Hughes was on a rival high school team that played against B.J. Symons, although Hughes, then a sophomore, didn't play. Texas Tech's record-setting quarterback is "definitely a great athlete," said Hughes.

The biggest problem for the Texans may be securing enough tickets for friends and relatives. Each Navy player is allotted four, and the Texans are bartering with their teammates for more.

"I'm telling everybody back home to buy a ticket and make a contribution to the bowl," said Phillips.

The game will be Navy's third of the season in the Lone Star State. In addition to Rice, the Midshipmen appeared in Fort Worth earlier in the season and dropped a tough one to then-No. 25 Texas Christian, 17-3.

For the linemen, this is a particularly good opportunity to crow a bit to the home folks. The Midshipmen have averaged more than 326 yards a game on the ground.

"We don't have the biggest line, and teams know what we're going to do, but we keep doing it," said Wilson. `That's awesome for the program."

Houston Bowl

Matchup: Navy (8-4) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

Site: Reliant Stadium, Houston

When: Dec. 30, 4:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Texas Tech by 13

On SunSpot: Navy's Amir Jenkins, Ralph Henry and Shane Todd answer readers' questions about their season and the Houston Bowl. Log on to www.sunspot.net/sports to read the transcript.

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