ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -Navy's coaches have been wearing T-shirts all month that read: ``No Excuses. Nobody Cares.''
First-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo said those words apply to him as well. Niumatalolo is under enormous pressure to continue the remarkable run of success begun by predecessor Paul Johnson.
After leading Navy to five straight winning seasons, Johnson left to become head coach at Georgia Tech. Navy returns four starters on offense and eight on defense from last year's Poinsettia Bowl team
Quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and fullback Eric Kettani return as the primary weapons in the team's triple-option offense. Inside linebacker Clint Sovie and safety Jeff Deliz have recovered from season-ending injuries suffered last September to strengthen a defense that struggled throughout 2007.
As a result, Niumatalolo believes Navy can maintain its stranglehold on the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and advance to a bowl game for the sixth straight season.
``If we don't get it done this year, we've got no excuses. We have the players in place. We're as athletic as we have ever been,'' Niumatalolo said.
Kaheaku-Enhada enters his third season as the trigger man of the triple-option, which has enabled Navy to lead the nation in rushing four of the last five seasons. His ability to read defenses and distribute the ball helped the Mids establish a school record with an average of 348.8 yards rushing in 2007.
Kaheaku-Enhada has rushed for 1,341 yards and 22 touchdowns while leading Navy to a 12-7 record as a starter. Along the way, the affable and always-smiling youngster has evolved into a master of the triple-option - reading and running the intricate system better than any quarterback Navy had during the Johnson era.
``Kaipo is by far the best conductor of this offense we've ever had. He's the best at reading the option, the best at facilitator of the ball, the best overall at orchestrating the whole thing,'' Niumatalolo said. ``People don't truly appreciate how good he is at running this offense. He makes difficult things look easy.''
Kaheaku-Enhada rushed for 834 yards and 12 touchdowns, passed for another 952 yards and eight touchdowns last season despite missing considerable time due to fatigue or injuries. Navy coaches believe the senior could surpass 1,000 yards in both rushing and passing if he can stay healthy this season.
Kettani, a bruising 6-foot-1, 233-pound senior, led Navy in rushing last season with 880 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Midshipmen bring back another proven playmaker in slot back Shun White, who took pitchouts for 620 yards and seven touchdowns.
Of course, blocking is the key to the triple-option and Navy has a revamped offensive line that has struggled to find chemistry and cohesion during the preseason. Left guard Anthony Gaskins is the lone returning starter on the unit, which was dominated by the defensive line in a pair of intra-squad scrimmages.
On the bright side, the defense's impressive performance throughout preseason practice has been a source of encouragement. Navy allowed 36.4 points and 439 total yards per game last season.
Injuries were a factor as Sovie and Deliz, two of the team's top tacklers, went down in the second game against Rutgers and had season-ending surgery. Deliz, the defensive captain in 2007, was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and has regained his starting spot at rover. Sovie is also completely healthy and has been a playmaker throughout preseason.
Navy returns eight of its top 10 tacklers from a year ago, including safety Wyatt Middleton (88 tackles), cornerback Blake Carter (71) and inside linebacker Ross Pospisil (67). Nose guard Nate Frazier anchors a solid defensive line that also features end Michael Walsh, who led Navy with 10.5 tackles for loss in 2007.

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