Navy Football 2005 Recap and 2006 Preview
Prospects look good for Navy football this year. The team has 18 returning starters and 38 returning letter winners from a group that won a third-straight Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy and a second-straight bowl victory.
The Mids capped their 8-4 season with a victory over Colorado State in the Poinsettia Bowl, accomplishing for the third time in school history three consecutive seasons with eight or more wins. The last time this happened was 1906-08.
“I think last year’s team surprised a lot of people,” said Navy head football coach Paul Johnson. “We didn’t have a lot of experience coming back and we opened up with two tough opponents in Maryland and Stanford.”
Navy’s 48 points, 32 first downs, 69 rushing attempts and 467 rushing yards against Colorado State were Navy bowl game records. For the first time in school history, Navy played in three straight bowl games, and this was the only time Navy appeared in and won bowl games in back-to-back years. Navy is now 6-5-1 all-time in bowl games, including a 2-1 mark under Johnson.
As indication of the success of Johnson’s program, the Mids’ 18 wins over the last two years tie the school record for wins over a two-year span, and their 26 wins over the last three years are tied for the second most in school history.
For the second time in three years, Navy’s rushing offense was best in the country, averaging 318 yards per game. Navy averaged a school-record 5.7 yards per carry and scored a school-record 43 rushing touchdowns. By comparison, national champion Texas finished a distant second, averaging 275 yards per game.
The team not only rolled up yards on offense, but didn’t give many back to opponents via penalties, ranking third in the nation in fewest penalties and fewest penalty yards per game. Fans flocked to see the Navy gridders, too, averaging a school record 33,013 per game. For only the second time in school history, all home crowds surpassed 30,000.
Navy ranked 30th in the country in both the Associated Press and USA Today final polls, and won their final three games by a combined score of 131-70. Not bad for a school that rarely rewards its best athletes with NFL gigs, but instead sends them into harm’s way participating in the military defense of the country.
“We have started to build a program here and the pressure is on this year’s seniors to keep the ball rolling,” said Johnson, assessing the 2006 squad. “The senior class has a chance to do something that no class has ever done at the Naval Academy – go to four straight bowl games and go 8-0 in service academy games.”
Johnson’s teams are 7-1 against the other two service academies, 3-1 versus Air Force and 4-zip versus Army, representing the best start in school history for a head coach. An experienced coaching staff is one of Navy’s strengths. With a combined 81 years of coaching at the Academy and 71 years under Johnson, the staff has 57 years of experience under Johnson’s direction at the Academy.
Among the biggest names on this year’s team is slot back Reggie Campbell, who at 5-6 and 164 pounds is one of the smallest players in college football. Last year as a sophomore, he played big, destroying Colorado State with his NCAA bowl game record-tying five touchdowns, rushing for 116 yards on 16 carries and catching two passes for 89 yards. He returned four kickoffs for 85 yards. Whew!
“We have improved our speed at slot back over the last couple of years,” Johnson said. “Now when we get these guys out in the open field, we have a chance to score. That wasn’t the case when we first got here.”
Junior Joey Bullen (5-10, 186) returns as Navy’s kicker. He made nine of his 12 field goals last year, including a 46-yard field goal at the gun to beat Air Force. Nearly automatic on extra-points, he made 52 of 53 – a school record – and his 47-consecutive extra-points are tied for second all-time. “I was pleased with the way Joey kicked the ball last year, although he needs to be more consistent with his kick-offs,” Johnson said.
Senior Brian Hampton (5-11, 208) gets first crack at the starting quarterback position in Navy’s powerful triple-option attack. Last year’s back-up saw significant playing time, appearing in all 12 games on special teams and nine games at quarterback, including extensive playing time against Maryland, Stanford, Rice and Kent State.
“Brian got the opportunity to play last year when the game was still on the line and I thought he did fairly well,” Johnson said. “I thought he had a solid spring camp and emerged as a leader. There are still a lot of things he needs to work on in the fall before he is ready for the opener against East Carolina, but I think he has a chance to be a solid quarterback for us.”
Johnson is expecting big things from his defense, with many returning players. “We have a group of linebackers that has played in a lot of big games over the past three years, and I expect them to have a big year,” Johnson said. “Defensive line is a position that we need to see continued improvement. We must be able to stop the run if we are going to have a chance to have a good football team.”
The key to Navy football success? “We have to outwork people,” concluded Johnson. “We aren’t going to beat anybody by just rolling our helmets out there on Saturday. I don’t think we are going to scare anybody getting off the bus.”
In an agreement with Raycom Sports, owner and operator of the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the 2006 edition of the game, to be played December 30, will include a bowl-eligible Navy against a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference. A good 2006 season would conclude at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. Go Navy!
“The recent success of our program both on the field and in the stands has created the exciting opportunity we have before us with the Meineke Car Care Bowl,” said Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk. “The pageantry of Navy football is about a winning team, thousands of fans, embracing a community by the entire Navy family, and an overall institutional commitment second to none.”