Navy's Ogden dreams of bowls, rings Senior linebacker searches outside, in

August 28, 1991|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- When he was a sophomore in high school and the Washington Huskies -- then his favorite football team -- won the Orange Bowl, Navy linebacker Byron Ogden acquired a desire that still burns today.

"I've always had a goal of winning a bowl," said Ogden, who met Washington coach Don James after his team beat Oklahoma in the 1985 Orange Bowl. "It's one of my biggest dreams, to have that bowl ring for all my life showing what I did. To say, 'I had a great season, I earned this ring by beating a team in a bowl.' "

At the Naval Academy, that might indeed be dreaming -- Navy hasn't had a winning season since 1982 -- except that the service academies send their top team to the Liberty Bowl.

If Navy does not make Ogden's dream come true -- it must beat Army and Air Force to do it -- it won't be because the 5-foot-11, 220-pound co-captain didn't put forth the effort. A solid hitter who patrols the field with recklessness, Ogden is faster and bigger (by 10 pounds) this season -- and his frame of mind is just as solid.

"People ask me about this season, and I say we can beat every team on the schedule," said Ogden, whose team still must face Notre Dame and Virginia on its scaled-down schedule. "They'll say, 'Realistically, give me an outcome', and I'll say, 'Realistically, we can go 11-0.'

"If I say I want to be 8-3, right away I'm selling myself short by saying there are three teams on the schedule we can't beat. If I believe that before the season starts, why should I even play that game?"

Ogden's 11-0 wish will be put to the test in the Sept. 7 opener against visiting Ball State, second only to Clemson in total defense last season. Until last week, Ogden was expected to start that game at outside linebacker, a position he played for the first time last season. But with the development of Mark Ellis at outside linebacker, defensive coordinator Dick Biddle moved Ogden back inside.

"It won't be that much of an adjustment because he's played it before," Biddle said. "We wanted to get our best athletes on the field, and we didn't want two of our best players at the same position. We needed that athleticism at inside linebacker. He's a short inside linebacker, but he has good strength and pretty good leverage."

So far, Tim McGuire, who coaches the inside linebackers, has been happy with Ogden's transition.

"He seems a natural at the position and has solidified our inside linebacker situation," McGuire said. "He does a good job of controlling things inside, and he's able to give off to the other players and raise their level of play."

Ogden's all-out style was evident when the Midshipmen defeated Delaware, 31-27, in the next to last game last season. Ogden caused a fumble, blocked a punt, intercepted a pass on the Navy 15-yard line and recovered a fumble on the Navy 21 -- all in the first half. Navy scored after three of the four plays.

"I don't think I've ever been a part of that many turnovers," Ogden said after the performance that earned him the Eastern College Athletic Conference Division I-A Defensive Player of the Week honor.

He's hoping for more top performances at inside linebacker, which he feels is better suited to his punishing style of play.

"I like inside because you're right there, and a lot of it is your reaction and ability to fend off blockers and get to the ball," Ogden said. "That's a lot of fun, just flying around and hitting people.

"My biggest improvement will be just to play mistake-free football. You make a false step at inside linebacker, the next thing you know you're getting ear-holed by a tackle. You have to react quickly."

As a co-captain, Ogden said he realizes younger players look up to him. Some players feel pressured by that position, but Ogden relishes it.

"At practice, you're the one the younger guys turn to," Ogden said. "If they see that leadership by example, and that willingness to work through the tiredness, they'll feel they have to get better."

He's hoping that team feeling will get results during the season, results that will help him reach his college football goal.

"When I came here I just wanted to play and make the traveling squad, and I did," Ogden said. "Each year is just another step. I'd like to get a ring in my last step."

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