Since stepping in for injured senior quarterback Brian Hampton, sophomore Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada has led Navy to a 4-1 record, including blowout victories over Duke, Eastern Michigan and Temple and the school's fifth straight win over Army.
As a starter, the native of Kapolei, Hawaii, has rushed for nine of his team-high-tying 10 touchdowns and thrown three scoring passes, while helping the Midshipmen virtually seal their third NCAA rushing title during the past four seasons.
But Kaheaku-Enhada is still looking at the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 30 against No. 23 Boston College as a chance to redeem himself. He still winces as he reminisces about his last performance on Dec. 2, the day Navy defeated Army, 26-14.
While the defense scored nine fourth-quarter points to close the deal and was outstanding during the final three quarters, the offense was rarely in sync. Navy managed only 15 first downs and produced 264 rushing yards, its second-lowest output of the season.
And Kaheaku-Enhada, who rushed for just 64 yards, completed one of six passes for 11 yards and struggled with his option reads and decision-making, pointed the finger at himself.
"That's the worst football I've ever played, even going back to high school," Kaheaku-Enhada said. "I knew what I was supposed to do, and I didn't do it. I wasn't relaxed at all, and I let [the pressure] get to me. I didn't play my kind of football, or Navy's kind of football."
Navy coach Paul Johnson, who is not known for dishing out praise effusively, thought Kaheaku-Enhada was being harsh in his self-assessment.
"[Kaheaku-Enhada] didn't play the way I'd like to see him play, but I wouldn't go that far," Johnson said. "He's pretty hard on himself."
Bounce in their steps
After some lackluster, recent workouts that drew criticism from Johnson, the Mids showed more bounce in their final practice in Annapolis yesterday. Then, the players began to head home for a four-day Christmas break.
The team will reconvene in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday to begin its pre-bowl game workouts, after completing an unconventional itinerary. Johnson said "26 or 28" players will board a charter with coaching and support staff Tuesday morning. The rest of the players will meet the team in North Carolina.
"Most of our guys are from the South," Johnson said. "It really makes little or no sense for a guy from Texas to fly back here to fly to Charlotte. Once we touch down, we'll go to the hotel, pick them up, then go straight to practice."
Kaheaku-Enhada has the most ambitious travel plans. He was scheduled to board a flight to Los Angeles, then to Oahu last night, arrive by noon local time today, then fly all night on Christmas and arrive in Charlotte early on Tuesday. He also aims to return to Hawaii the day after the Car Care Bowl, then come back to Annapolis on Jan. 7.
"If everything works out [today], a half an hour after I get home, I'll be at the beach, surfing," he said.