J.P. Murphy and Tom Shelly knew early on they wanted to attend the Naval Academy, and each of them has blossomed on the Navy soccer fields along the Severn River.
Murphy, who graduated from Severna Park in 2002, had wanted to wear the service academy uniform since elementary school, when he attended church at the Naval Academy and was intrigued by the lifestyle.
"I remember when I was 7 or 8 years old and I came to church here and the chaplain asked me, 'When are you coming here?' " Murphy said. "It's something I have never forgotten. I would see the midshipmen in downtown Annapolis and I just wanted to be a part of it."
Shelly, who graduated from South River in 2003, wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Tom, a 1979 academy graduate who was captain of the Navy soccer team and a pilot after graduation.
"I always knew I was going to come here," Shelly said. "I didn't want to go anywhere else."
Both were high school soccer standouts in Anne Arundel County. Murphy was an All-Met his senior season in 2001, when he posted 15 goals and 10 assists. He scored six times in the postseason, including game-winners against defending champion River Hill in the 3A East Region semifinals and against Dulaney in the 1-0 state final.
Shelly guided the Seahawks to their first county title in 2001 with a 2-1 victory over Chesapeake. That year Shelly guarded Murphy in a regular season game that South River won, 1-0, to eliminate Severna Park from contention for the county championship.
"It was weird at first playing with him because we really went at it during high school," said Shelly. "But we really don't talk about high school because we have bigger things on our minds now that we're at Navy."
The players took different paths to get there: Murphy spent two years at preparatory schools; Shelly was a direct-entry recruit. Both are starting for the Midshipmen this fall.
Murphy, a sophomore, is the team's top forward, with a team-high four goals and one assist. He has already scored more in eight games than he did all of last season, when his three goals and two assists led an anemic offense that scored just 12 times in 17 games.
Shelly, a junior, leads a defense that has played well this season -- a major reason Navy has outshot five opponents. The Midshipmen have allowed seven goals in eight games.
"J.P. has gotten off to a great start, and you can tell that he put in the extra time to work on his shot, and he's become very dangerous with the ball because he can finish," said Navy Coach Rich Miranda. "Tom is the backbone of our defense. I wish we had more Tom Shelleys out there for us."
At 4-4 so far, Navy already has one more victory than it had all of last season. The Midshipmen won four of their first five games -- something they hadn't done since 2001. Then came three straight defeats, the first a 2-0 loss to Massachusetts on Sept. 18.
In a 1-0 loss to Delaware on Sept. 21, Navy had a chance to take the lead in the first half, but McKenzie Plank's shot hit the post and Anthony Parker's rebound hit the crossbar.
Delaware scored the only goal in the 62nd minute. T.C. Young delivered a perfect pass to Sobhan Tadjalli, who broke through the defense and slipped a shot past goalie Aric McElheny.
Navy's early momentum continued to flag on Friday when it opened Patriot League play with a 1-0 loss at Lehigh, which is expected to be one of the league's top teams. Lehigh placed second in the league last year, while Navy finished in last place.
"We had our opportunities to score, and we couldn't get it to bounce our way," Murphy said after the Delaware game. "Any time you lose it's tough, but we had our chances and couldn't finish."
Murphy and Shelly cherish soccer because they know that as soon as they graduate, their days of playing competitively are over.
Shelly aspires to be a Navy SEAL, part of a selective maritime force. "They go in and do the dirty work that you need to get done," Shelly said. "It's the same way with playing defense in soccer."
Murphy wants to serve in the Marine Corps ground forces and said he is ready to risk his life for his country.
"I'm not scared -- not at all," Murphy said. "When I came here, I knew this is part of getting to get a great education."