Senior Owens finally takes wheel as Mids QB

Navy: After three years on special teams and as the mop-up quarterback, Lamar Owens will be running Paul Johnson's triple-option offense.

College Football

August 30, 2005|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

In his own words, he has always been "one play away" from becoming the Navy quarterback.

That one play turned into one season, then two, then three, as first Craig Candeto and then Aaron Polanco proved both effective and able to absorb the punishment that accompanies the position.

Finally, as a senior, Lamar Owens is no longer a play away. He is firmly entrenched as the starter, has been voted the offensive captain by his teammates and is clearly on center stage.

The tricky triple-option offense with which coach Paul Johnson has turned around the Midshipmen now is entrusted to a 5-foot-9, 185-pound whippet who has appeared primarily at mop-up time and on special teams through three years. In his entire career, Owens has rushed 37 times and thrown six passes.

"It's been a long time, and this is my only shot," Owens said. "But everything I've been through has helped me."

Johnson has made it clear that Owens is far ahead of his competition, noting the knowledge of the system he has accumulated.

"He doesn't have a lot of game experience, but he's had a million [repetitions] out here on the practice field," said the coach. "He understands what he's doing, and he has some athletic ability. He's a pretty level-headed kid, so I think he will be all right. He's mature. It's not like we are throwing a freshman out there."

Owens spent most of the summer at the academy refining his football skills and acting in a leadership role with the incoming plebe class. If anyone was ever fully prepared for the coming assignment, it is he.

"Even in high school, I was kind of the leader. Guys were looking at me for energy," Owens said. "I don't mind being vocal to keep them going."

A quarterback in a wishbone offense at Benedictine Military in Georgia, Owens intended to join Johnson at Georgia Southern when he left prep school. When Johnson was named Navy coach, Owens reassessed his options since his commitment to Georgia Southern no longer applied. He picked Navy.

Owens comprehends the pressure associated with his new status but also realizes the entire load does not rest upon his shoulders.

"There is not too much pressure to make spectacular plays," he said. "My job is to put us in position to win the game. Aaron always made big plays when the team really needed one. I hope I can keep that going."

Owens will probably not plow into defenders the way his two predecessors could. But he's shifty, quick and not easy to tackle. His passing accuracy has improved through his practice career, although he is not likely to attempt many long-range throws.

"You just try to minimize the hits," he said of his running style. "In the open field, you won't get tackled head-on. I've been doing it ever since I started playing. We all have to play a lot smarter than a lot of people."

Owens has been susceptible to minor injuries during his long learning period, but Polanco (who is assisting the coaching staff) believes his successor will be fine.

"Craig [Candeto, Polanco's predecessor] and I both got dinged up a lot. Playing quarterback in this offense sure can cause some problems, but Lamar is a lot better at dodging than both of us," Polanco said. "He's a lot more shifty than I ever was and good at ducking and sliding under tacklers. And he's a tough kid. You can't say something is going to happen to him until it happens."

Polanco said the first victory will take whatever pressure away that Owens feels.

"You're real nervous at first and don't want to mess up," Polanco said. "You try your hardest to play well. But once you get that first win off your shoulders, you're relieved."

Owens' maturity and experience in the system will be pluses.

"You have to be smart. You can be the most athletic kid around and if you don't check the right plays, things are not going to happen," Polanco said. "I haven't given Lamar a whole lot of advice. He knows what he has to do. He's mature enough for the job."

NOTE: Plebe Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (Kaipo for short) has been working at wide receiver, although he was recruited as a quarterback.

"He's one of our better athletes, and he seems to be enjoying himself out there," Johnson said. "He wasn't going to play quarterback [as No. 4 on the depth chart], so we moved him. He'll be on the dress squad for the first game."

He is from Kapolei, Hawaii.

Maryland-Navy

Matchup: Maryland vs. Navy in season opener

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

Radio: 1090 AM (will break away for 7:05 p.m. Orioles-Red Sox game), 1300 AM, 97.9 FM, 105.7 FM

Line: Maryland by 8

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