After his first three years in the Naval Academy football program, Brad Stramanak's greatest claim to fame was being the answer to a magazine trivia question.
"That's right," the senior fullback from Johnstown, Pa., said with a laugh. "The question was which Navy player scored touchdowns in two different games against Army as a freshman. Well, I scored a touchdown in the plebe game, and then I scored on a 45-yard run against Army in the varsity game."
But after an encouraging start as a sophomore in which he scored in the first four games, Stramanak had the misfortune of ** running smack into a 340-pound Temple lineman.
He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, causing him to miss the last five games of the 1991 season and all of last year while undergoing a massive rehabilitation program.
That is why Navy coach George Chaump and his teammates were so emotionally charged Saturday, when Stramanak, starting in place of Cleavon Smith, scored three touchdowns, including a 50-yard sprint, and gained 92 yards on 16 carries in a 31-10 romp over Eastern Illinois.
"Brad has been through a lot the past year with all his rehab," said quarterback Jim Kubiak. "But that has only made him more hungry. He's no speedster, just a tough guy who gets the job done when it's third-and-two."
Stramanak's 50-yard run came against a bunched-up Eastern Illinois defense and gave Navy a 28-10 lead in the third quarter.
"It was on a belly play, and they didn't have a center fielder, the 216-pound back said. "I just wanted to make sure not to get caught from behind. That would have been embarrassing. I would have got a lot of guff from my teammates."
But Stramanak has heard only praise.
"Brad is a great story, a winner," said Chaump. "He has that toughness. Give him the ball close to the goal line, and he'll find a way to get it across.
"I was surprised how effective he was in our spring camp after being off so long, but he's a rugged individual. His spirit is contagious. You have to have a couple of guys like Stramanak on your team."
"I'd been through this before when I hurt my knee in high school and sat out my junior season," Stramanak said.
"I knew what it took to come back. Every day, Mondays through Fridays, after classes it was like going to another job. I'd start off slow, just lifting, then progressing to things like swimming, jogging and biking. You get frustrated. For me, they had to slow me down and drain my knee twice.
"I knew there would be ups and downs, and one of the tough things was watching my friends play basketball, volleyball and racquetball. But I just didn't want to chance hurting my knee again."
Stramanak said his focus has changed since he accepted his scholarship to the academy.
"When I was an 18-year-old kid coming out of high school, I just wanted to play football at a Division I level," he said. "Some schools backed off after my knee injury. That's why I came here. I wasn't thinking about the service commitment.
"Now that I've progressed through the years, my thoughts of playing football have switched to being a Naval officer."
But Stramanak has learned to enjoy football again. Last week, he attended a campus victory party with several teammates and members of the class of '64.
"Just drinking plenty of Coke and milk to a lot of loud music," he said with a laugh.
Although he limped off the field Saturday, Stramanak is expected to start against Bowling Green this week.
"Our team doctor said I just tore some scar tissue making a cut," he said. "I'll just switch braces and go until I can't run again."