ANNAPOLIS -- Simply because Jason Van Matre underwent knee surgery nine days ago, it doesn't mean Navy coach George Chaump will tolerate words like "probable" or "questionable."
"Probable, hell," Chaump snorted when asked about Van Matre's availability for 0-9 Navy's game against Wake Forest (2-8) Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium. "Jason is a must."
Van Matre, a sophomore who has started six games at quarterback and one at tailback, leads Navy in rushing with 447 yards and in passing with 449.
He submitted to arthroscopic surgery for removal of torn cartilage in his right knee after injuring it early in the Notre Dame game and being limited to only a few plays the following week against Tulane. He tested his knee in practice Tuesday and yesterday pronounced it 75 percent sound.
"It's still sore and I've lost some strength in it, but if I'm feeling good I will play," Van Matre said.
Navy's medical people have assured Chaump that Van Matre runs no risk of re-injury if he plays this week.
"He'll play with some pain and aches," Chaump said. "We need him to win. If he's sore, well, it's only Wednesday. Jason's tough."
Chaump spurned the idea of holding Van Matre out of the Wake Forest game so that he would be fully ready for the finale against Army Dec. 7.
"The best way to get ready for Army is to win this game," Chaump said. "If we have Van Matre, it improves our chances."
A question lingers: Will Van Matre play quarterback or tailback Saturday? He is Navy's only legitimate back and is the key to anything the Middies do on offense.
"Tailback," Chaump said. "A tailback can get by with natural talent, which Jason has. A quarterback has to be talented, too, but he also needs training. Van Matre hasn't practiced for two weeks. Of course, I'd also like to use him some at quarterback, to run the option."
Van Matre's strength is running. Freshman Jim Kubiak and junior Brian Ellis are the Middies' best passers, and one of them will start at quarterback.
"If we're using a passing offense, I'd rather be a tailback or a receiver," Van Matre said. "If I don't throw a tight spiral or get enough zip on the ball, I get mad and critical of myself. If we're throwing, I'm better off at another position."
Van Matre and company are struggling through what could be Navy's worst season, ever. Since they began playing football in 1879, the Middies have never been 0-9.
Their only winless season since the turn of the century was 1948, when they went 0-8-1. Navy started that season with eight straight defeats and awoke to tie unbeaten Army, 21-21.
"This is the lowest I've been since I've been at the academy," said Van Matre. "When the football team isn't doing well, the morale in the halls is down. But we have to be persistent, because things can't get much worse.
"We've heard all the words -- embarrassing, pathetic, frustrating. We just try to work even harder. This team is real close, and that's the main positive through all this."
Chaump, in his 10th season as a head coach, is not used to being beaten like a drum. He was 24-16-1 at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and 33-16-1 at Marshall University before coming here.
"Never in my coaching career have I thought a win would be this big and important," Chaump said.
That's because he has never been in the unfortunate position of being 0-9.