The feeling is palpable on the field at the Naval Academy.
Call it confidence, swagger or momentum after program record eleven-win 2015 season. But there's a major difference on the 2016 roster.
Gone is record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds, graduated and drafted by the Ravens. The QB this year is senior Tago Smith.
“He's got all the skill set in the world to play this offense,” said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo about Smith. “He's as talented physically as anybody we've had and it's his time. He's waited patiently for this opportunity and I know he's going to do well.”
After serving as Reynolds’ backup, Smith says he's ready for his chance to lead the Mids.
“I'm an athlete. That's the type of quarterback I am,” said Smith. “I'm an athlete, do it all. That's what I'm going to bring to the table.”
Smith's offense is up against it early in the season. Receiver Jamir Tillman is the only returning starter on that side of the ball.
“We've all had the experience in practice seeing it. Obviously not game experience but you're still out here running the same plays against the same defense. Getting the same looks,” said Smith.
While names on the field may be changing, the man roaming the sidelines is not. The program's winningest coach, Niumatalolo is still in Annapolis. He’s back for a ninth season leading the Naval Academy but his return to the Midshipmen wasn't always a given. After such a successful season last year, several programs around the country were interested in his services. Why is he back?
“It's a great place to coach. I love the kids that I coach. I love coming to work every day,” said Niumatalolo. “I guess if it gets to a point when you don't love to come to work it's probably time to find something else to do but I enjoy getting up every morning and coming to the Naval Academy to work.”
Game one for Navy is this Saturday at home against Fordham. Kickoff set for noon.
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