In past seasons, Navy had to do something special to get attention in the land of college football giants.
In 2007, it was beating Notre Dame for the first time since 1963. In 2008, it was slotback Shun White's rushing for a school-record 348 yards in the season opener. Last year, it was nearly shocking sixth-ranked Ohio State in the season opener at Ohio Stadium, then beating the Irish for the second time in three seasons.
Going into the 2010 season, all the Midshipmen have to do to get noticed is show up.
A 10-win season that culminated with a dominant bowl victory over heavily favored Missouri in the Texas Bowl and the return of senior quarterback Ricky Dobbs have put Navy in the consciousness of fans and media a month before the Midshipmen open against Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium as part of a nationally televised Labor Day doubleheader.
Navy, which finished last season just outside the Top25, has been ranked as high as No. 23 in one poll (Rivals.com) and should get mention in others yet to be announced. Dobbs, who, as a junior, set an NCAA record with 27 rushing touchdowns despite missing one game because of a broken kneecap, is being touted as an early-season candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
"Clearly, what the seniors did last year and what the team did last year has gotten us this attention," safety Wyatt Middletown, a senior co-captain along with Dobbs, said Thursday during the team's media day at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. "You play good, you get attention; that's how it works."
Much of the attention surrounds Dobbs, who emerged when he came off the bench as a sophomore to rush for 227 yards against Southern Methodist before leading a 20-point fourth-quarter comeback win in overtime against Temple the next week. But it was last season, starting against the Buckeyes and finishing against the Tigers, when he started to get national notice.
Not that Dobbs has noticed himself.
"I have to make sure I prepare as a quarterback and everything else falls into place," Dobbs said. "No matter what goes on, have to make sure I stay humble and not let it get to my head."
In fact, Dobbs has come up with a motto for this year's Navy team: "Stay hungry, humble and healthy."
Despite the team's most explosive offensive player, slotback Marcus Curry, being expelled from the academy this year, third-year coach Ken Niumatalolo said there is more depth and talent at the position than he can remember. Despite graduating all four starting linebackers, including leading tackler Ross Pospisil, a defense ranked 18th in points allowed returns otherwise intact.
"Fortunately, we have a lot of pieces in place," said Niumatalolo, who is getting mentioned as one of college football's rising coaching stars. "We don't look to the past. Every year is a new season. Anything we did last year has no bearing on this year. You can't look in the rearview mirror."
If he did, he would see a string of seven straight winning seasons and bowl-game appearances that began under former coach Paul Johnson. Or he could go back even longer, to Charlie Weatherbie's last season, in 2001, when the Midshipmen didn't win a game.
That's when George Kesselring of Annapolis started rooting for Navy. The first game he saw, the Midshipmen lost to Georgia Tech, 70-7.
"It was so depressing," said Kesselring, who came with his two young sons to watch Navy work out Thursday. "Now, suddenly, it's our local team. It's very motivating to have them in a winning season and for what they know they're signing up for while they're here and after they're here."
The move to prominence hasn't been easy, according to athletic director Chet Gladchuk.
"It all boils down to the fact that it's a legitimate program now," said Gladchuk, who is in his ninth year. "It's taken us seven, eight years to build it to where it is today. ÃÂ The wins are flowing. With it comes a significantly heightened national awareness. It's the credibility that this team and this program has earned over the last seven years. We're seeing the fruits of an awful lot of labor on an awful lot of fronts."
Note: Navy will play a home-and-home series with Southern Mississippi, starting with the Midshipmen hosting the Golden Eagles on Oct.8, 2011. Navy will play at Southern Miss at a date to be determined.
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