ANNAPOLIS -- Navy football coach George Chaump has had nothing but praise for his team's aggressiveness since spring practice began three weeks ago, and nowhere was that aggressiveness more evident than during the team's full-contact scrimmage Saturday.
"You couldn't go 10 plays without someone getting too spirited and wanting to take things one step farther," Chaump said yesterday. "A lot of the players came to me, and they didn't apologize. They said: 'Coach, this is the first time it's been like this since I've been here. We love it.' "
Is this the sign of a new, improved Navy? Chaump seems certain that this team, which will conclude spring practice with its annual Blue-Gold game Saturday, is superior to the team that finished the 1990 season, his first at Navy, with a 5-6 record.
This year, the team is relatively healthy, with the only setbacks the loss of four players to academics (linebacker Mark Ellis, safety Darrell Graham, cornerback Rodney Purifoy and fullback Ivan Bullard) and the absence of Kwame Moultrie, a part-time starter at tailback who quit the team after the season.
"The sad thing about it is these guys are pretty good students, but surviving at the Naval Academy is different than surviving elsewhere," Chaump said of the four academic casualties, who are expected to return in the fall. "With Moultrie, he said he just lost interest in football."
The big battle this spring has been at quarterback between Brian Ellis and Jason Van Matre. Neither has taken a snap as a collegian (Ellis, a junior next season, has yet to play; Van Matre played some at tailback as a plebe last season), but Chaump said he is not overly concerned.
"Ellis is a passer, while Van Matre is a runner," the coach said. "We're going to try to come up with something where we can benefit them both."
Chaump's biggest concern is solidifying a defense that allowed 26.7 points per game.
He said the team is bigger and stronger under a new conditioning program, but added: "We're still not big enough to compete at the I-A level. We have a lot of catching up to do, but we're closing the gap."
When TB Kwame Moultrie decided not to play in what would have been his junior season, Navy lost 142 yards of offense. Here are the top 3 returning players, with their 1990 offensive numbers:
Player, pos... .. .. .. Carries.. .. .. .. Yards
Brad Stramanak, FB.. .. .. 21.. .. .. .. .. 111
Jason Van Matre, TB*.. .. . 13.. .. .. .. .. . 63
Ivan Bullard, TB.. .. .. .. 18.. .. .. .. .. . 52
*Van Matre will play quarterback.