Navy senior class has sailed along

Johnson's first recruits eye last home game

College Football


For 18 Navy seniors, the ride they accepted four years ago has been well worth the taking.

The time has flown by for the first class recruited by coach Paul Johnson and his staff, a group that will be honored tomorrow at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium when they make their final home appearance against Temple.

They are a compact collection because Johnson was hired after the forgettable 0-10 season of 2001 and got a late start on the recruiting trail, but they will stride out proudly as primary contributors to the football resurrection at the academy.

"It has gone really fast," Johnson said. "It seems like yesterday when they first got here."

Among the accomplishments they have achieved are three straight winning seasons - if the Midshipmen (5-4) win one of their final two games - a probable Navy-record three straight trips to bowl games, at least one postseason victory, a possible three straight Commander in Chief's Trophy titles after years of domination by Air Force and a final ranking in the nation's Top 25 after last season.

Currently 25-21 over their careers, those in the class of 2006 will be the first to graduate with a winning record since 1999.

"It's just been incredible," said offensive lineman Marshall Green. "Coming in, I didn't really know what was going to happen. Coach Johnson said, `This is my history [improving programs]' and guys bought into it. But I didn't necessarily expect all the things that I've seen happen."

"So much has changed," added linebacker Jake Biles. "The big reason I came here was the coaching staff. They won over the recruits. From Day One, we expected to go to bowl games."

With Johnson and the staff, the seniors - then plebes - suffered through the regime's first season, a 2-10 finish. The vast majority were not even on the varsity roster, but were in the football program nonetheless.

But they maintained their optimistic outlook as the Johnson staff began bringing in better athletes and the opposition was somewhat scaled down to give the Mids a reasonable chance.

"I think everybody knew it was going to get turned around," said wide receiver Mick Yokitis. "I think we had played a lot of teams tough that first season. You could tell the attitude was different."

"It was all different by that second year," added punter Eric Shuey. "There was a greater confidence. The team had the ability to say, `We're going to do something.' The last two years, it's only been a question of how many games we'd win. We knew we would. A large part of the game is mental. That can carry a team."

Belief in the Johnson system, his punishing triple-option offense, quicker players and fewer games against national powers worked wonders. Even without the ability to recruit professional prospects, the Mids are respected as opponents by everyone they play.

"I've got no regrets about coming here," Yokitis said. "We can walk out with our heads up."

"It seems like about a month ago that we got here," Biles said. "This has definitely gone very fast. That first year I was watching games in the stands and it used to be quiet for the most part. Now everybody's into it. We've got a real home-field advantage."

Slotback Marco Nelson, who came to Navy because he wanted to play on the offense, summed up the general feeling.

"When we talked to the coaches coming here, it all sounded good," Nelson said. "I was hoping the program would turn around. I wasn't expected to lose every game like they had the year before. But I have to admit it's a little bit of a surprise how far we've come."

Temple@Navy Tomorrow, 1:30 p.m., 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: Navy by 27

Navy's seniors

Jake Biles LB

Mike Brammer WR

Jeremy Chase DE

Cory Colistra S

Dan Gibbon WR

Marshall Green OT

Ed Kotulski DE

Jason Monts LB

Kenny Ray Morrison LB

Marco Nelson SB

Lamar Owens QB

Luke Penrose CB

James Polanco LB

Lloyd Regas WR

Eric Shuey P

Dan Wendolowski OG

Matt Williams LS

Mick Yokitis WR

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