With health, experience, Mids are in best shape in years to challenge Cavaliers

NAVY FOOTBALL

September 10, 1993|By EARL SCHUBERT

The road back to a successful season for the Navy football team goes through Charlottesville, Va., tomorrow and a 1 p.m. kickoff against the Virginia Cavaliers, who defeated the University of Maryland last week, 43-29.

Coach George Welsh's team has become a nationally ranked power in recent years in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and though the Mids hold a 27-9-0 edge in the series that began in 1889, the Cavaliers have won the last three by a combined score of 126-24.

Coach George Chaump's charges are in the best position to compete with Virginia that they have been in since his arrival in 1990, what with a veteran squad that includes 27 seniors and 30 juniors, and a good nucleus of former starters.

Virginia is rich in quarterbacks with B. J. Hawkins, Mike Groh and Symmion Willis competing up to the opener for the starting assignment. Two outstanding linebackers in P. J. Killian and Gene Toliver are emerging as leaders on their 4-3 defense, which will likely be the Cavaliers' main source of strength. But that offensive line, averaging 289 pounds and anchored by 305-pound Jim Reid, will be difficult for the lighter Mids to penetrate.

Virginia will feature a high-powered attack, featuring senior tailback Jarrod Washington. Aaron Mundy at tight end and free safety Keith Lyle were made preseason All-Atlantic Coast Conference selectees along with guard Mark Dixon by The Sporting News.

Navy's wide-open offense, featuring a host of receivers, will be led by junior quarterback Jim Kubiak, who hopes to repeat the form he showed in his freshman year before being injured in the opening game with the Cavaliers in 1992. Two capable quarterbacks in Tony Solliday and Eddie Buckles are the backups.

Kevin Hickman, Damon Dixon, Jimmy Screen and Jim Mil are the receivers, all regarded by Chaump as capable runners after catching passes.

Last year's potent offensive threat, Jason Van Matre, returns at tailback where he is joined by veterans Cleavon Smith, Billy James, Brad Stramanak, Lionel Hines and Monty Williams. The flanker is Mike Jefferson, backed up by sophomore Matt Scornavacchi.

The Mids' offensive line will average 260 pounds, headed by 290-pound tackle Max Lane. Blair Sokol, Chuck Puglia, Dan Pidgeon and Zach McMechan are the other starting linemen. They will match up reasonably well with Virginia's defensive alignment.

The Navy defensive lineup is a different story, however, and has to be a concern tomorrow to the coaching staff.

Averaging only 251 pounds per man, they will be outweighed 31 pounds per man by the Cavalier offensive line. Navy's All-East senior linebacker, Javier Zuluaga, weighs in under 230 pounds, as does the other linebacker, junior Shane Holloran. The front four on defense has one returning starter in senior Dave Shaw, who will be joined by Chris Reaghard, Ty Renick and Andy Person.

The secondary is manned by five returning starters and should ** be a considerable improvement over 1992. Grover Favors, Steve Lipsey, Chris Hart, Mike Riggins and Joe Speed all saw weekly action and showed considerable improvement toward the end of the season. Their effectiveness might be the key to a turnaround in Navy's fortunes.

The Mids' last victory over Virginia was in 1986 by 20-10 when quarterback and co-captain Bill Byrne was compiling an academy career passing record, halfback Chuck Smith was averaging 4.8 yards per carry and Ted Fundoukus was becoming one of the all-time leaders in field goals and extra points. It was Gary Tranquill's final year as Navy's head coach.

But this is another year, and the healthy and spirited Navy squad that takes the field tomorrow bears little or no resemblance to the injury-plagued team of 1992. Its players are tired of four weeks of pounding on each other and are ready to get on with the season.

Note: This column featuring Navy football will appear each Friday throughout the season.

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