ANNAPOLIS -- It had no bearing on the outcome, but the play that probably best illustrates the play of Navy fullback Brad Stramanak was a second-half encounter with Virginia's P.J. Killian during Saturday's game.
Stramanak, who's 5 feet 11, 234 pounds, got up immediately after the collision and jogged back to the huddle. Killian, at 6-3 and 232, needed a little time to adjust his helmet and clear his head.
"It's one of the best sights I can see -- going through the line, getting past the linebackers and just seeing a defensive back come at you," said Stramanak -- never minding the fact that Killian was a linebacker. "It's you against him and I want to see what he has. I don't have the best of moves, I'm not going to cut around him. My objective is to run through there and hit him as hard as I can, so the next time I come through he knows I'll be there."
Big talk after a lucky hit? Not for Stramanak, whose running is as bruising as the sound of his name. His one style, straight ahead, has been responsible for both Navy touchdowns this season (he's gained 104 yards on 18 carries, 5.8 avg.). And, just a sophomore, he is Navy's back to the future.
"Both of our backs are tough, hard-nosed kids," said Navy coach George Chaump of Stramanak and tailback Duke Ingraham. "They're not the fastest guys, but both are punishing runners. And that's the type of football we have to play."
Stramanak's style -- and the name Larry Csonka comes to mind -- developed at Westmont Hilltop High School in Johnstown, Pa., where he was an all-state linebacker as well as an all-district running back his senior year. Those achievements were a credit to his determination -- the previous year he was injured in the first game of the season and required reconstructive knee surgery.
"I was playing linebacker and on a sweep to the right, I was pursuing, planted my left knee and it just popped," Stramanak recalled. "I took another step, and my knee just collapsed. I was on crutches for three months, and then I spent three months on a cane. Word got back to me from a lot of coaches in the area who were saying, 'He'll never play again.' And I doubted myself."
A determined Stramanak made the best of a long rehabilitation process that included swimming, biking, running and weight-lifting. By the spring he was throwing the shot-put for the track team. He even ran a leg for the 4x100 relay team during one meet.
"But it wasn't until the fall, when I put the pads on, that I became confident about football," Stramanak said. "At first I was real hesitant about making cuts and getting hit. It wasn't until the fourth game that I realized I could play, that the knee was fine."
L Despite his comeback, there weren't many scholarship offers.
"After my sophomore year I was getting letters from UCLA, Penn State and some big schools. And then I had an injury and it all stopped," Stramanak said. "But Navy stuck with me."
He went to the Naval Academy Prep School, where he was became strictly a fullback and was named the outstanding back on a team that went 10-0. He made his entrance last season in a big way, scoring on a 45-yard run against Army in just his second start.
"Three touchdowns, three games, that's good I guess," Stramanak said. "But the way I look at it is, we lost all three games."
And, as he looks at the Navy schedule, he sees opponents that never gave him a look after his injury. And that motivates him.
"Some of the schools that we play, I feel I should have been recruited by," Stramanak said. "When I step on the field, I want to prove to them, 'Hey, it's your loss and I'm going to do my damndest to try to beat you.' It hasn't happened yet, but that's been my attitude."