Navy senior quarterback Lamar Owens realized his three-year wait was over when he looked into the eyes of his huddled teammates during the Midshipmen's season-opening practice Friday in Annapolis.
"All the guys who were in the second-team huddle last year were now all on the first team," said Owens, who had been a reserve since his freshman year. "We all knew at that moment it was our time."
Owens is just one of many Midshipmen who for the first time are experiencing life on top of the depth chart after Navy lost nine starters on offense and eight on defense from a team that last year went 10-2, its most victories in a season in 99 years.
But for all the new faces scattered around the team's practice facility on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, there was something else present: expectations.
Navy has racked up a school record-tying 18 victories the past two years and has a chance to eclipse the 27 victories earned from 1905 to '07, its most in a three-year period.
"I don't look at anything as a rebuilding year -- every team is different," Coach Paul Johnson said. "It wouldn't be fair to our 19 seniors to say that it's a rebuilding year, would it?"
But it won't be easy for Navy to continue its impressive run, especially without 36 seniors from last year's squad.
The Midshipmen have upgraded their schedule, beginning with pivotal games against Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 3 followed by a home game against Stanford on Sept. 10. Last season featured early games against Duke and Division I-AA Northeastern.
"Playing those teams was the next step we had to take," senior defensive end Jeremy Chase said. "We proved we could have success playing a lighter schedule. We lost a lot of great players last year, so now we just have to reload."
On offense, Navy's top three returning ball carriers -- Owens, senior slot back Marco Nelson and sophomore slot back Reggie Campbell -- combined to rush for 270 yards and a touchdown last fall. Now, it's up to them, along with junior slot back Trey Hines, to the replace the 2,536 yards and 29 touchdowns that were amassed last season by fullback Kyle Eckel, quarterback Aaron Polanco and Eric Roberts.
Defensively, Chase (46 tackles), junior outside linebacker David Mahoney (85 tackles, five sacks) and junior cornerback Jeremy McGown (91 tackles) will lead a unit that lost three players who recorded at least 100 tackles.
"Last year's seniors set high expectations, so everyone is going to be watching us," said Owens, who attempted only five passes last year playing behind Polanco, who threw for 1,131 yards and eight touchdowns. "The way I see it is if we do well, it's not going to go unnoticed."
Midshipmen Notes: Navy announced it will open the 2009 season in Hawaii. . . . Sophomore slot back Jonathan Peoples was sent home to Kannapolis, N.C., after he failed his physical readiness test and will not be allowed to rejoin the team until Aug. 18.