ANNAPOLIS -- When Gary McIntosh came out of high school five years ago, some people scratched their heads when he chose the University of Maryland. Despite his All-American status, McIntosh joined a team that was knee-deep in talented quarterbacks.
When McIntosh said that he was leaving College Park after his freshman year, the head-scratching stopped until he announced later that he was going to the Naval Academy. Primarily known as a drop-back passer, McIntosh was joining a team that featured a wishbone offense.
"When I left Maryland, two other quarterbacks left, too," McIntosh said of the exodus that began with the resignation of coach Bobby Ross in December 1986. "That program was suffering a lot. I felt it was time for me to make a change."
Four years later, McIntosh's football career has floundered, and, last month, it nearly ended.
"For football, there's no doubt it could be better. I can't see it getting worse," McIntosh said yesterday. "I don't second-guess coming here, because I love the academy. I can't wait to graduate and become an officer, to get in the fleet. That's my big goal now. As far as football, if I had it over again, I wish things would be totally different."
Frustration and uncertainty have dogged McIntosh ever since he stepped onto the academy campus, since he put on a Navy uniform, since he brought the great expectations that have followed him since his days at Gonzaga High School in Washington.
The frustration caused McIntosh to quit the Navy team for more than a week last month after Alton Grizzard was named No. 1 quarterback by new coach George Chaump two days before the season opener. Even after returning to the team, and eventually to the starting lineup, the uncertainty lingers.
It was apparent yesterday, after McIntosh learned that Chaump had yet to decide who was going to start for Navy (3-3) Saturday against James Madison (4-3).
"As a player, especially at the quarterback position, for me going into the game, knowing that the coaches and the team are behind you, I go out there that much more confident," said McIntosh, who started the past two games after Grizzard had a lung injury.
"It helps when you're out there on the field and you have to come up with big plays."
If there is a play to pinpoint the downturn of McIntosh's career at Navy, it may be an opening-series fumble two years ago against Notre Dame. McIntosh was yanked by former coach Elliot Uzelac and, by the end of last season, was relegated to being a rarely used wide receiver.
Even after Uzelac was fired, the frustration did not subside. So, when Chaump decided to go with Grizzard this year, McIntosh blew up. His
leaving the team was not so much directed at Chaump as at events over the past three years.
"It was a buildup of several feelings I had inside of me," McIntosh said. "The last three years, there were a lot of things that went on that soured a lot of people about college football, about football at Navy."
Said Chaump: "He probably felt that he never got a fair shot, and his confidence was down. It [quitting] was rather surprising to me, because I had no indication from Gary. I thought he was fine."
McIntosh met with his teammates after they returned from a 56-14 defeat at Virginia on Sept. 15, and was voted back on the team.
"I've always had confidence in him," said tailback Kwame Moultrie, "but I think there were a few people who had doubts when he came back. He's removed all the doubts. It's as if
it never happened."
Said McIntosh: "It was very tough. I had never not played football before. Every day here I've been known as a ballplayer. By coming back, I've obviously showed that it was a mistake. I was willing to face that."
With five games remaining, McIntosh would like to prove that he is more than just another high school hotshot whose career never panned out. But with mediocre career stats -- 69 completions in 156 attempts for 930 yards, with two passing and six rushing touchdowns and eight interceptions -- as well as an uncertain playing status, time is short.
"I'm looking forward to these five games, and want to get the best out of my abilities because of my love for the game. . . . having put so much time into football," he said. "That's what really keeps me out, and that's what brought me back."