Steve Johns joined the Navy coaching staff as inside linebackers coach in 2008, the year Ken Niumatalolo became head coach. It was a year the Midshipmen had two new starters at inside linebacker, juniors Ross Pospisil and Tony Haberer.
Three years later, Johns finds himself in the same position, coaching juniors Matt Brewer and Matt Warrick.
"It's always been a good continuity we've had because guys haven't had to play until they were juniors," Johns said after practice Wednesday in Annapolis. "Guys have been able to come along slowly. It helps a lot, gives them time to grow and they're not just overwhelmed when it's their turn."
At 6 feet, 223 pounds, Brewer appears to be in the same mold as Pospisil, the undersized linebacker with the outsized motor. Warrick, who is a couple of inches taller and 5 pounds heavier than Brewer, reminds some of Tyler Simmons, who graduated last spring.
In his first start for the Midshipmen last Saturday, Brewer led Navy's defense with seven tackles and forced two fumbles in a 40-17 win over Delaware. Warrick, who started a couple of games at the end of last season, had five tackles.
"We have a lot of guys who've been chomping at the bit to play," Brewer said after the game.
Though Johns had recently joked that "it's not like we're replacing any Butkus Award winners", Warrick understood that he and Brewer would be scrutinized given the careers that their predecessors had at inside linebacker. Simmons led the Midshipmen in tackles last season, while Pospisil led Navy in tackles the previous two years.
"Names like Ross Pospisil, Tony Haberer, Bobby McClarin, Tyler Simmons are names we hear all the time," Warrick said. "We don't want to let down their legacy; we want to keep linebacker a strong point on the defense and keep what they started going."
Brewer said he began his preparation last season, playing behind Simmons.
"Last year as a sophomore I always tried to prepare as if I was going in at any time," Brewer said.
That they are playing college football together is remarkable, given that Brewer and Warrick have known each other since grade school. Brewer was a year ahead of Warrick at Wildhorse Elementary School outside St. Louis, and the two were part of the same football program through middle school.
They went separate ways in high school, and Brewer can joke about the time he caused Warrick to fumble the first time he ever carried the ball in high school, while Warrick reminds Brewer that he had more than 100 yards that game. But Brewer has the final say, because since his team beat Warrick's in the big end-of-season rivalry game each of the two times they met.
They reunited when Brewer was a senior and about to commit to the Naval Academy and Warrick was a junior and being recruited by the Midshipmen. Each made unofficial visits to the Army-Navy game.
"I find out he was coming here," Warrick said. "It might have [influenced his decision] knowing there was someone I knew up here. It would be nice to have a little St. Louis connection up here."
They were not supposed to end up playing together on the field as Warrick had been recruited as a slotback. But in the spring before his freshman year, the coaches asked him to move to linebacker.
"I was pretty much buried on the depth chart at A-back, so I thought it would be a good move," Warrick said.
Johns believes both players "have a long way to go" before they can be mentioned along with players such as Pospisil, Haberer and Simmons. But, Johns added, "it was a good first step, and I think they're going to be getting better every week."
Johns was saying the same thing three years ago about another group of inside linebackers, when he and they were new on the job.
NOTES: Niumatalolo said after practice that Jared Marks, who was suspended for the opening game because of a violation of team rules, will start Saturday at Western Kentucky (0-1). … The Hilltoppers lost their opening game against Kentucky.