Navy has speed, needs quick boost

August 10, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

After seven bitter months of trying to erase the memory of a 16-14 loss to Army on a missed field-goal try, and the long shadow of an academic cheating scandal among some Midshipmen, Naval Academy football coach George Chaump and his players were upbeat yesterday in discussing the coming season, beginning Sept. 3 against San Diego State.

In the wake of the scandal that touched a number of football players and prompted the resignation of co-captain Javier Zuluaga, new school superintendent Admiral Charles R. Larson instituted a four-year program in character development, with emphasis on honor and ethics.

"We have to end the public perception that our athletes receive favorable treatment," he said. "We have to do a better job of integrating the athletes into the student body."

Despite the negative publicity, Chaump said he enjoyed a solid recruiting year, bolstered by the addition to the staff of former PTC Washington Redskins quarterback and Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams, who'll be in charge of running backs.

"Last year was very difficult," said Chaump, who was especially shaken by the murder of former Navy quarterback Alton Grizzard by a fellow Academy graduate.

"We've actually experienced three tough years in a row," Chaump said. "We went 1-10 in 1991 and again in 1992, when we lost seven key players before the season started. Last year, we faced all kinds of adversity. That's why it's time now to get lucky."

And good, too. Chaump (11-33), who received a contract extension last December, rates his current team "the best talent I've had at the skilled positions. For the first time, we should be able to keep up with our rivals in terms of speed."

The Midshipmen's offense will be built around the strong arm of senior quarterback Jim Kubiak, who passed for 2,628 yards and set 10 Academy records last year after missing almost his entire sophomore season with a shoulder injury.

"This time last year, I was green as could be," Kubiak said. "I thought I knew what to expect that first game against Virginia, but I really had no clue. I grew up real fast. Now I have a real grasp of the offense. I could tell you exactly what I have to do today to beat San Diego State."

Kubiak will have an experienced array of receivers, headed by senior Damon Dixon (53 receptions); junior Mike Scornavacchi, a deep threat; senior tight end Kevin Hickman (39 catches); sophomore Ross Scott, who was voted most improved in the spring drills; and junior tailback Mike Jefferson, a sprinter who will double as a wide-out.

But much will depend on how fast the inexperienced offensive line matures, with all five starters last year lost to graduation.

It was the passing game that got the Mids off to a 4-2 start last season before they lost their last five, including consecutive blowouts by Vanderbilt, 41-7 and SMU, 42-13.

The Mids' major problem was turnovers (42), proving especially costly in the losses to Tulane, 27-25, and Vanderbilt (10 turnovers).

"I'm going to put a lot of pressure on my defense to turn giveaways into a plus for us this season," Chaump said.

Chaump has a new defensive coordinator -- his fifth in five years -- in Richard Bell, former coach at South Carolina. The aggressive play of the revamped defense in spring practice has Chaump enthusiastic, although the front four lost bulwarks Dave Shaw and Stacey Yopp.

Ryan Bucchianeri, who, as a freshman, missed an 18-yard field-goal attempt in the final six seconds and a chance to beat Army, returns as the place-kicker.

Bucchianeri said he received close to 400 letters and telegrams in the off-season.

"They came from Naval bases and ships all over the world and from just plain citizens," he said. "And they were all positive. I answered each and every letter. These people really helped my confidence."

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