Lamar Owens Sr. remembers those sweltering summer football practices in Savannah, Ga., when he coached middle schoolers in a recreational league.
As players threw their bodies at one another, Owens occasionally looked at the sideline, where his 6-year-old son, Lamar, filled water bottles.
"It was like he was studying what they were doing and always trying to see the big picture," the elder Owens said. "One thing about Lamar, he's always had patience."
Since he first picked up a football, the younger Owens, Navy's starting quarterback, has learned to wait. He sat for two years before starting at Benedictine Military Academy in Savannah. At Navy, he watched quarterbacks Craig Candeto and Aaron Polanco orchestrate one of the biggest revivals in college football.
Now his wait is over.
Owens is one of the big question marks for the Midshipmen entering their season opener against Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday. He has a strong arm, but he has only thrown six passes in three years. He's quicker than Polanco, but his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame will be tested in a triple-option offense that demands toughness.
"It's not just me, but pretty much all the guys that were in the second-team huddle are now in the first-team huddle," said Owens, who had 24 carries for 115 yards and completed 2 of 5 passes for 38 yards last year. "With all of the success our team has had, all eyes will be on us; so whatever we do is not going to go unnoticed. It's our turn to show people what we can do. There are a lot of guys who have waited for this opportunity."
Owens will lead an offense that graduated eight starters, including four ballcarriers who collectively rushed for 2,923 yards and 34 touchdowns in driving Navy to its best season in 99 years.
"The guys have rallied around him," Coach Paul Johnson said. "But [leadership] is going to happen when you get to the game and his nose is bloody in the third quarter and everybody looks in the huddle and he's dialed in and it ain't bothering him. That's when they follow you. All the rah-rah and talking and high-fiving out here ain't worth a dime until they see something in a game."
Owens agrees. He said he feels he has done everything possible to improve his chances -- as well as those of Navy, which went 10-2 last year. Owens spent this summer on campus, establishing himself as a leader in the weight room and coordinating volunteer practices with the offense.
"You can tell by the way he acted this summer around all of that, he's waited for this day for a long time," junior receiver Jason Tomlinson said. "He was always around motivating us this summer and having us do passing drills to work on our timing. After seeing how good the last two quarterbacks we had [were], there's pressure on Lamar. But we believe in him."
Owens always envisioned himself as a starter, just not at Navy. As a senior in high school, Owens orally committed to Georgia Southern, which was then coached by Johnson.
When Johnson left Georgia Southern a few months later to take over at Navy, Owens followed him.
"Thank goodness when you verbally commit to a school, it doesn't count," Owens said. "I felt comfortable with Coach Johnson's offense, and when he left, I had second thoughts, so I thought it would be best to follow him."
Owens accepted his role immediately. He attended meetings and studied the playbook like it was an academic text. He roomed with Polanco during away games last year, and Johnson said Owens has learned from his former teammates.
"Lamar is probably a cross between Craig and Aaron," Johnson said.
"But Lamar knows the offense better than I did at this point," said Polanco, who is working as an assistant coach this fall before he reports to Marine basic training in Quantico later this year. "He has all the tools he needs to be successful. He understands that the door is open for him this year."
When Navy takes the field against Maryland, the journey that began in a small Southern town will begin its final stage. A career that began with Owens watching the big boys in his home town will culminate with all eyes on him -- all eyes, except possibly those of his father.
"I know Lamar is ready for this, but I'm already nervous, and by the time I get to the game, I'll be scared to death," Owens Sr. said. "I have a ticket, but I'll probably be so nervous I'll spend the game walking around the stadium scared to watch."