Ben and Chris. Nos. 1 and 1A. Nip and tuck. Flip a coin, or, more precisely, a Navy quarterback.
Coach Charlie Weatherbie says that senior Ben Fay and junior Chris McCoy are almost too close to separate before the season opener at Rutgers tomorrow night.
For the moment, Fay, the co-captain, is listed No. 1 on the depth chart, but that seems a mere formality, with McCoy considered a co-star, not an understudy.
Such thinking could create a schism on some teams, but both quarterbacks had a chance to prove their worth last season, and offensive coordinator Paul Johnson sees the lively competition between Fay and McCoy as a positive.
"It's one thing, if you're searching for a leader," he said. "But I think it's great that we have two guys we can depend on. I guarantee you, during the season, we'll need both of them running the team."
Said Weatherbie: "Fay has shown natural leadership tendencies. probably more of a no-nonsense guy than Chris when he is in the huddle."
But the red-haired Texan is feeling pressure from McCoy, who had an exceptional summer camp after an ankle injury slowed him in spring practice.
"Chris has done a great job of getting the ball into the end zone in our scrimmages and is right on Fay's heels," Weatherbie said. "He's got a much better grasp of our overall offensive system.
"He has really improved on taking care of the ball and is much more confident throwing it. He always had the arm, but this year it's the difference between being a thrower and a passer."
In his first varsity appearance last September, McCoy rushed for 273 yards in leading the Midshipmen to a 33-2 rout of Southern Methodist.
Suddenly, he had gained celebrity status and the pressure that goes with it.
"After such an incredible start, I was feeling great, but then the expectations became so high," he said. "I may have tried to force things with the offense and doing too much myself rather than letting things happen."
The McCoy magic vanished the third week of the season against Wake Forest when he was charged with three interceptions in a 30-7 blowout by the Deacons.
"I think Chris lost some of his confidence after that game," said Weatherbie, who turned to Fay as his starting quarterback the next week.
But whenever the offense sputtered, McCoy was quickly summoned, sparking a 30-9 road victory over Duke with 144 yards rushing. He finished the season with 1,327 total yards, including a team-record 803 yards from the quarterback spot.
Fay's accomplishments last year were less spectacular, but still substantial in passing (869 yards) and running (227) for a total of 1,096 yards. But it is the Texan's grit that is best appreciated by his coaches and teammates.
"Ben never wants to show anyone he's hurting," said senior linebacker and fellow co-captain Clint Bruce. "He'll really get nailed, but he'll just give himself a good shake and go right back in the huddle."
After transferring to Annapolis from Texas Tech, where he redshirted in 1992, Fay, a rawboned 6 feet 1, 200 pounds, hardly left the bench as a sophomore, playing behind record-setting Jim Kubiak.
"I was a great friend of Kubiak and knew my role on that team," Fay said of the 1994 season. "Still, it still gets terribly frustrating when your team isn't winning.
"But I listened to coach Johnson and my father, who used to be a quarterback at TCU. They both said be patient and things will work out. They were right, and God has been good to me."
An outstanding high school catcher at Brewer High in Fort Worth, Fay caught the eye of the Cincinnati Reds after batting .475 his senior year. But after not getting picked until the 30th round of the baseball draft, a college scholarship looked more appealing.
Now Fay has a chance to lead a Navy team that finally looks ready to finish with a winning record after 12 straight seasons in the red.
"I'm still working hard to improve my option game," he said, "checking off and just getting more consistent. This triple-option is a lot more complicated than you think."
Said McCoy: "This summer, I spent most of my time on campus, working out with the receivers and learning how to read defenses. It was more a mental exercise than anything. I had to step back, watch films and evaluate what I had to do to be successful in running the team."
Weatherbie has given hints that there will be times this season when Fay and McCoy will be on the field at the same time. In the final scrimmage, McCoy auditioned as a wide receiver and grabbed a game-high five passes.
"Chris is just a great athlete," Fay said. "He can juke and jive and make guys miss him. He needs to play somewhere."
Pub Date: 9/06/96