Navy fullback Adam Ballard echoed the sentiments of every senior on the Midshipmen football team yesterday when he said: "We don't want to be the ones to lower the bar."
Navy, you see, has started a tradition - a four-year tradition now - of winning seasons, going to bowl games and being the winner of the Commander in Chief's Trophy that goes to the team winning the series among the three service academies.
"The thinking here has changed a lot since my freshman year," senior center Antron Harper said. "When I was a freshman, people just wanted to get to a bowl game. My sophomore year, people talked about wanting to win a bowl game. Now, our goals are to keep doing what we've been doing and not regress."
In 2006, the Midshipmen went 9-4, finishing the season by losing, 25-24, to Boston College in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Navy also tied the record for winning the Commander in Chief's Trophy four consecutive times.
This season, the team wants to improve on all those numbers. Navy wants a better regular-season record. It wants to win the Commander in Chief's Trophy for an unmatched fifth straight time. And it wants to win the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20, when the Mids would play a team from the Mountain West Conference if they register at least six regular-season victories.
"It's a lot of motivation for us," said junior quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who started five games last season and has recovered from a separated shoulder suffered in the spring. "You want to be able to pass the torch."
Coach Paul Johnson said even with a rebuilt defense, all the dreams might be possible, but only if he puts the right mix of players together and those players execute the program.
"We've got the big P word, potential," Johnson said. "But we haven't played a game yet, and no one is going to run for cover seeing us coming off the bus. Everyone on our schedule has circled us as the game they should win - or have to win."
But Johnson also said even with the loss of key personnel on both sides of the ball, particularly on the defensive line and in the secondary, his team could be better than a year ago.
"We have players who run better, players with ability," he said. "The first couple weeks we'll spend installing our system and solidifying our depth chart. ... We may have to cross-train guys for more than one position, because it's about trying to get your best ... guys on the field. The hardest part is making sure you have the right personnel. Then we'll spend the next two weeks getting ready for Temple [on Aug. 31]."
During the summer, many of the players gave up their leaves to stay in Annapolis to work and get stronger.
"A lot of people have a lot of doubt about us because we lost so many starters on defense," said senior safety Jeff Deliz, a team captain along with slotback Reggie Campbell. "I like that no one is talking about us. It gives us something to prove. It doesn't mean we can't develop into a great defense.
"If we all work for the same goal and execute, we can be a great defense. What we have to have is attitude. ... Attitude and effort is what can make the difference on the football field."