Reaghard heads home at last, excited by Navy chances

September 01, 1994|By BILL TANTON

This is the most exciting week -- so far -- in the life of Navy football player Chris Reaghard.

Reaghard, who will start at defensive tackle Saturday night in the season opener at San Diego State, has been waiting for this game for five years.

In a way, he has been waiting for it all his life.

Reaghard, a senior, lives in San Diego. He grew up there as a Navy brat. His father, James, is a 1969 graduate of the Naval Academy.

"I didn't see my father until I was 9 months old," Reaghard was saying in Annapolis yesterday. "He was on duty in Vietnam. When he finally came home, I crawled to him and he picked me up and said, 'This boy's going to the Naval Academy.' "

Naturally Chris' family will be at Jack Murphy Stadium when the teams kick off.

Chris' best friend from high school, Marc Ziegler, is the tight end for San Diego State. Reaghard, who plays the strong side, will be lined up opposite his pal.

"I saw Marc this summer," Reaghard said with a smile. "I told him we were gonna kick his butt."

Because the Middies haven't had a winning season since 1982, people don't think in terms of Navy's kicking butt.

But Reaghard is not your stereotypical Navy football player. He's 6 feet 2 and weighs 271, the biggest man on the defense -- big enough to kick some butt, if he so chooses.

"I've got to slim down after the season," said the crew-cut Reaghard. "I want to fly. If I don't get down to 219, I can't get my commission next May. I'm going to be on a lot of single rations over the winter."

The Reaghard-San Diego thing is more than the fairly common story of the athlete who returns home to play against his hometown team.

"We need this game," Reaghard said. "We need it for a lot of reasons."

He needs it because this is his last year, and this game is the opener -- a new beginning.

Navy needs it to help turn things around after the most nightmarish year in the academy's 149-year history.

It was a year that included unprecedented tragic deaths --three of them recent graduates in a shooting incident -- in addition to the biggest cheating scandal the academy has ever had.

Not to mention the shocking, 16-14, football loss to Army when freshman Ryan Bucchianeri missed an 18-yard field goal in the final seconds.

A win over San Diego State won't even come close to making up for all that, but it could be a start.

Nothing stirs a student body like sports, even at a service academy, so victory over the Aztecs could send a signal that smoother waters lie ahead for Navy.

Reaghard thinks the Middies are in for a good year.

"I think we can have a winning season," he said. "Going into every game, I think we can win. You have to feel that way when you run out on the field. But I think we can win more than we lose."

That would call for six victories, since the Middies play 11 games. It's been 12 years since they've won that many.

Navy improved last year. After winning one game in each of the '91 and '92 seasons, the Middies won four in '93. Another -- the Army game -- certainly was winable.

Six wins this year may be a stretch. I can see Navy beating Bowling Green (again), Lafayette and Tulane (although a repeat over the Green Wave will be more difficult in the Louisiana Superdome).

What could be more cherished here than a win over Army on Bucchianeri's toe?

From here it looks like a 5-6 year, which isn't so bad when your schedule includes Notre Dame, Virginia and Air Force.

I hope the Middies win seven or eight. They deserve it after the ordeals of the '93-94 school year.

As this year begins, there's lots of optimistic talk.

"I like our quarterback [senior Jim Kubiak], our running backs and our wide receivers," says coach George Chaump. "We have more speed at linebacker and our secondary's quicker. So much depends on what happens up front, offensively and defensively."

The optimism spills over even to basketball, with everybody returning and a 21-1 Navy Prep team now in the plebe class. There's talk the team will win 20 games. Navy hasn't done that since David Robinson graduated.

"I think the whole place is in for a great year," says Dick Mathieu, Navy's NCAA representative. "Admiral Larsen [Charles R., the new superintendent] spoke to the whole faculty the other day. He was terrific. What a great leader."

As Chris Reaghard says, it all starts with that -- feeling when you run out there that you're going to win. There's a good deal of that feeling at Navy now.

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