Pain lingers, but Weatherbie upbeat on '96 for Navy Coach likes Mids' chances of redeeming '95 finish

March 29, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

A bitter last-minute loss to arch-rival Army last December robbed Navy of a chance to finish with its first winning football season in 12 years and "left a scar on my heart," said head coach Charlie Weatherbie, who has regained his unbridled optimism while preparing to greet 40 lettermen for the opening of spring practice tomorrow.

Weatherbie, who finished 5-6 in his first season, took a last look back on last year's frustrating ending, when Army marched 99 yards against the clock for the winning touchdown in a 14-13 victory.

"Of course, it hurt real bad, and I took responsibility for it," said Weatherbie, who was criticized for passing up an 18-yard field-goal attempt while leading 13-7.

"It's one of those things you learn from, but don't dwell on. The good Lord has a plan and there's a reason we weren't successful.

"But I still look back on that fourth-down play we tried from inside their 1-yard line. Army came with all 11 of its defenders. All we had to do was throw the ball in the air; one of our guys would have caught it, and we would have been up by 13."

Of course, it didn't happen that way. Sophomore quarterback Chris McCoy's low toss dropped harmlessly to the ground beyond the diving grasp of Corey Schemm, and the Cadets began their miracle march toward their fourth straight win over Navy.

But yesterday was a day for believing that this is the year the Midshipmen finally will put their football frustrations behind them. And there were logical reasons for Weatherbie's upbeat attitude.

"This time last year, I was a new coach trying to teach a new offensive system," said Weatherbie, who replaced George Chaump's pass-oriented T-formation with a spread offense geared to the running game.

Last spring, Weatherbie's top two quarterback hopefuls, McCoy and Ben Fay, had a total of three games varsity experience. Both far exceeded expectations and give Weatherbie the opportunity to play the hot hand this season.

Limited to playing defensive back for the junior varsity as a freshman, McCoy burst upon the scene in storybook fashion by rushing for a record 273 yards and compiling 398 yards total offense in the season-opening 33-2 victory at Southern Methodist.

The Georgia native suffered a midseason slump, but finished the year with a team-high 803 yards rushing -- an academy record for quarterbacks.

Fay, a red-haired Texan, displayed leadership abilities as soon as he replaced McCoy, and was voted offensive captain for this season. The slender senior completed 51 percent of his 144 passes for 869 yards and also rushed for 227 yards and four touchdowns.

"Ideally, we would like Ben or Chris to step up and seize the starting job," said Weatherbie. "But they give us a strong one-two punch and both can come off the bench and provide a spark."

Whoever is calling the signals will find himself playing behind a veteran-dominated offensive line led by senior tackle Scott Zimmerman, junior center Brian Drechsler and junior guard J.D. Gainey.

They helped pave the way for 2,570 rushing yards, seventh best in the nation.

"For a team to go from 107th to seventh in one season is phenomenal," said Weatherbie, who gives considerable credit to unsung fullback Tim Cannada, who gained 409 yards as a sophomore.

The coach has more reason for concern on the defensive side, where graduation cost Navy such team leaders as defensive end Andy Person, linebacker Fernando Harris and safeties Andy Thompson and Joe Speed.

Much of the defensive burden will be on aggressive linebacker and co-captain Clint Bruce and junior defensive backs Gervy Alota (109 tackles) and Sean Andrews, who tied for the national lead with eight interceptions.

"Right now," said Weatherbie, "one of our critical needs is finding a replacement for Brian Schrum as our punter."

Schrum averaged 40.7 yards a punt last season. Weatherbie will audition a number of kickers, including Fay.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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