ANNAPOLIS -- In just the second game of his college career, Jason Van Matre came to realize -- as he watched the beating taken by quarterback Alton Grizzard in Navy's 56-14 loss at Virginia last year -- just how punishing major college football could be.
"I was feeling for him, because a few times he got really pounded," said Van Matre, then a plebe tailback who watched the game from the bench. "He got rocked so much, I didn't think he was going to get up a couple of times. He really showed what he was made of to finish the game."
Tomorrow, Van Matre gets to show what he's made of when he makes his second start, as Navy travels to Virginia. He will be facing a defense even more physical than the one that helped Ball State beat Navy last week, but Van Matre said he plans to remain poised.
"I'm not really going to worry about their physical play," said Van Matre, a sophomore economics major who played safety and was team captain at B.T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Fla. "I guess when the time comes, I'll think about it. But I'm not going to be intimidated."
Already, Van Matre has shown he's cut out of the same mold as Grizzard. Van Matre had 18 carries for 64 yards against Ball State and helped the Midshipmen move the ball against a defense that was ranked No. 2 in the country a year ago. Although his 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame is smaller than Grizzard's, Van Matre has shown enough running ability (he rushed for 1,207 yards in leading Naval Academy Prep School to a 10-0 season in 1989) to impress Virginia coach George Welsh.
"Van Matre can beat you with his run right now," Welsh said. "I think we have to be careful, because he'll scramble and go outside. He's very quick with great acceleration."
But, like Grizzard, a lot of Van Matre's runs developed after blocking breakdowns on passing plays. Saturday, Van Matre completed five of 13 passes for 64 yards, was intercepted twice and sacked three times.
"We've been just trying to work on basic plays, and trying to concentrate on execution better," Van Matre said. "As far as passing, we're going to try to get them off a little quicker -- maybe shortened routes. It was obvious we didn't have time to go the full, seven-step drop and throw the ball.
Although Navy lost to Ball State, 33-10, coach George Chaump said he has had no second thoughts in naming Van Matre the starter this season over junior Brian Ellis. Though Ellis' arm is probably better-suited for the passing game that Chaump would like to use, Van Matre had the intangibles to win the job.
"He earned the right to start because he seems to provide a spark and consistency," Chaump said. "As a coach, you look for NTC that man who makes something out of nothing. He's shifty, and as Jason gets a little older and experienced, he'll be ready."
Chaump, who is coaching the Navy quarterbacks this season, said he is hoping to have a passing game ready for Virginia that will better use Van Matre's skills.
"He's not that tall, so it's hard to drop back," Chaump said. "We'd like to get him out on the edges a little bit so he can see more."
Van Matre's quarterback debut did not get off to an impressive start, as he was intercepted on Navy's first play from scrimmage. But he says that mistake -- and the loss -- is well behind him.
"I wasn't really nervous being that was my first game," Van Matre said. "That first interception didn't really bother me.
"I think our offense is better than last year. It's just a matter of getting things done. It was just a few mistakes that killed us [against Ball State]."
That loss put a damper on the positive mood with which the Midshipmen entered the season, but Van Matre said the team is hoping to rebound.
"It's a big letdown, because we really anticipated winning," Van Matre said. "We're trying to put it behind us and concentrate on improving against Virginia. We know we have a tough game, and I think, after the beating they put on us last year, they'll be looking beyond us to Georgia Tech."