With high expectations, Navy football starts spring practice Monday

Midshipmen open 2014 season against Ohio State at M&T Bank Stadium on Aug. 30

March 16, 2014|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

A few weeks before the 2013 football season started at Navy, Ken Niumatalolo sat in his office and talked about how it was the most talented bunch of Midshipmen he had been around as both the team's head coach and as an assistant under both Paul Johnson and Charlie Weatherbie.

Going into his seventh season as head coach, Niumatalolo knows that this year's team — led by junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds — could be even better than the one that finished 9-4 last fall by sweeping its fellow service academies and topping off the season with a contentious bowl victory over Middle Tennessee State.

Navy will open spring practice Monday in Annapolis.

"I like who we have coming back," said Niumatalolo, who returns 15 combined starters on offense and defense, as well as all five on special teams. "Does that mean anything? I don't know. We are still who we are. I feel we did some good things last year, but last year was last year. Hopefully nobody feels complacent."

Despite having virtually no challengers at quarterback — a problem for Niumatalolo and offensive coodinator Ivin Jasper should he get hurt — Reynolds certainly is not the type who would ever be accused of complacency.

A player who set the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (31) and tied Colorado State tailback Kapri Bibbs for the most rushing touchdowns in 2013 "works like he hasn't done anything," Niumatalolo said of Reynolds, who also led the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring (14.5 per game).

"I think his workman-like approach rubs off on the rest of the team," Niumatalolo said. "He's not a guy who looks for preferential treatment. He does everything as hard as everybody else, and that rubs off on everybody. He doesn't rest on his laurels."

Already having passed Johnson for third place among Navy coaches in victories with 48 — two behind Eddie Erdelatz and seven in back of George Welsh — Niumatalolo is not getting complacent either.

If anything, he wants to color outside the lines of Navy's trademark option offense by opening the offense for Reynolds, who has demonstrated a strong, accurate arm in his 21 games as Navy's starting quarterback.

"I just feel, just overall for us as a team and a program, to get where we want to get, we've got to become a better passing team," Niumatalolo said. "We're not going to throw the ball 30 times [a game]. I just feel like we'll be a harder team to defend if we continue to improve in our passing game without forgetting that we're an option football team."

The Midshipmen have more than five months until their opener, but it's hard to ignore how big it could be. Navy opens the 2014 season against Ohio State at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Our kids recognize that we're opening with one of the top teams in the country. They recognize we have a tall order right out of the starting blocks," Niumatalolo said.



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