Navy's Speed has freedom to roam Second-year player got quick induction

August 31, 1993|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

He had visions of being the second- or third-string cornerback when he came to the Naval Academy last year, but when the Midshipmen opened against Virginia, a plebe named Joe Speed found himself lined up as the starting cornerback.

For the record, the former All-Metro player from Dundalk says he was not in awe despite the fact that his welcome to big-time college football was immediate -- and slightly painful.

"It was their first play and, boom, touchdown off of play action," Speed said, shaking his head, when asked to recall what play in that first game stood out. "I should have been dropping back and I could see it develop out of the corner of my eye. At the time [the 49-yard touchdown pass from Bobby Goodman to Pete Allen] just didn't seem real."

Things didn't get better that night for Speed and his Navy teammates as Goodman threw for a school- record five touchdowns in the Cavaliers' 53-0 win. Chalk up that loss, and last year's 1-10 record, as a learning experience. When Navy opens at Virginia on Sept. 11, it will be a more seasoned Speed roaming in the Navy defensive backfield -- this time as a free


"I feel more comfortable at free safety," said Speed, who made the switch during spring practice. "It feels better because I can see the whole field and I can come up and make the big hit. I feel more in charge, and I can get more involved. The transition has been smooth."

A smooth transition is exactly what the Navy coaches expected in changing the position of the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Speed.

"We moved him there in the spring with the idea that we needed a real steady performer who cannot only handle the physical, but also the mental aspects of playing free safety," said Mike Drake, Navy's defensive backs coach. "He has a great understanding of the game. And he's one of those guys that always rises above the rest. He's a very focused player."

Being focused is something that Speed perfected at Dundalk High School, where as a senior he was a two-way starter and was instrumen- tal in leading the team to an 8-2 record -- the school's first season with seven or more wins since 1980.

On defense, he was good enough as free safety to be named the Baltimore County Class 3A Defensive Player of the Year. On offense, he rushed for 910 yards and 11 touchdowns as the starting quarterback.

College recruiters were more impressed with his play on defense, and scholarship offers came from Colgate and South Carolina.

"At first, I shied away from Navy because of the military commitment," Speed said. "But in the end, Navy was the best choice for me. I come from a family with five older brothers and it would have been hard for my mother to put me through college. This was the best choice for me financially, academically and athletically."

After spending a year at the Naval Academy Prep School, where he was named the Outstanding Athlete of the Year, Speed started the first six games to the delight of his family, who made the 25-minute drive to all of Navy's home games.

"I always had a nice little pack of 'Speeds' at games," Speed said.

But a sprained knee in the sixth game against Delaware limited his role and he spent much of the rest of the season playing special teams.

Speed is hoping to improve on his 25 tackles of last season. While Speed will be playing for his second defensive coordinator in two years (Dennis Murphy replaces Greg McMackin), he says the adjustments won't be major.

"We basically have the same package, it's just easier to understand," Speed said. "Last year, a lot of people blew their assignments. It was a good defense, but it wasn't concrete in our minds.

"This year, we have some experience executing it," Speed said. "I look forward to having a winning season this year. We're not going to settle for less."

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