With Keenan Reynolds returning under center after a record-setting sophomore season and the entire offensive line back in place, the Navy football team and its vaunted rushing attack are looking for big things entering the 2014 campaign.
Last season, Navy finished the season on a five-game winning streak, earned the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and won the Armed Forces Bowl against Middle Tennessee State en route to a 9-4 finish. Reynolds led the way, setting an NCAA single-season record for the quarterback position with 31 rushing touchdowns. Expectations for Reynolds and Navy are high, with an offense that finished the 2013 season as the nation's second-ranked rushing attack.
"I'm reaching as far as I can, and I'm going to keep pushing myself to perfection," Reynolds said. "Nobody's perfect, so I'll always have something to work for."
Reynolds, a junior, has been mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate heading into the 2014 season. He said the attention had not been a distraction.
"I set outlandish goals," Reynolds said. "So if I fail or fall short, I fall short of greatness. We're going to come out, and we're going to work hard, and we're going to play to win. We are trying to eat better, live better and practice better, the whole nine. We are just trying to work so we can achieve all of our goals this year."
Defensively, senior linebacker Jordan Drake and senior free safety Parrish Gaines will try to show that the Midshipmen are more than just a powerful offense.
"As a team, we are always seen as an offensive team, but we want to be seen as a defensive team," Drake said.
Drake will be moving to inside linebacker after playing the last 26 games at outside linebacker, and said he was embracing the change.
"Moving inside has been humbling," Drake said. "Going from outside and knowing a bunch and not knowing a thing, it's very humbling. I'm going to have to work hard. I want to be the leading tackler. Guys like Parrish Gaines want to be the leading tackler.
"So I think that competition makes us better. We want to be an all-around team. There's always a chip. We try to play as hard as we can and as fast as we can. All of our players have heart, and I feel like that is what sets us apart."
Navy will play three games this season at NFL sites. The season opener, Aug. 30 against Ohio State, as well as the Dec. 13 game against Army will be at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, and the Midshipmen will take on Notre Dame Nov. 1 at FedEx Field in Landover. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said his team would need to be prepared to have a chance to take out the Buckeyes.
"We open up with a very good football team," Niumatalolo said. "Some people have them ranked No. 3, so our guys have been working hard in the offseason. Now, we have to have a great August and come to work every day and hopefully, it gives us a chance. I told our guys we can have a great June, July and August, and we may still not be ready. So anything less than that is going to get us beat, so our guys are excited."
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified linebacker Jordan Drake as a co-captain. PressBox regrets the error.