Navy looks to keep momentum going Seniors want to show 1996 was no fluke

College football preview

September 04, 1997|By ALAN GOLDSTEIN

There is only one player left on the Navy football team from the 56-14 loss to San Diego State three years ago. Senior defensive back Kevin Lewis has the memory of that embarrassing day in Southern California burned in his memory.

"I only got into the game for three plays on special teams," said Lewis, a native of Forestville. "It was 42-0 at halftime. They really kicked our butts. By the last quarter, they were talking a lot of trash."

Lewis and his Navy teammates get a chance for redemption tomorrow morning, when the Midshipmen open their season against the Aztecs at Qualcomm Stadium.

Co-captain and strong safety Gervy Alota did not travel with the team to his hometown as a freshman in 1994, but he was still branded a loser by his San Diego neighbors.

"Before that season started, I was really talking about how competitive our game with San Diego State was going to be," Alota said. "My friends just treated us as a joke and said, 'Who's Navy?'

"It was really embarrassing having to go home after the season, especially because I played with several of the San Diego State players in high school. But they also have a lot of

junior college transfers and older guys who are real cocky and do a lot of yapping."

Because San Diego is considered a Navy town, with a major base on Coronado Island and thousands of alumni who have settled in the area, it puts even more pressure on the Mids.

But coming off a 9-3 season, capped by a dramatic 42-38 victory over California in the Aloha Bowl, Navy now has a reputation to protect.

"People realize we were no joke last season," Alota said. "Teams won't be taking us for granted anymore. The big difference this year is that we have a bunch of seniors who only have 12 games left in our football careers. We want to go out in style."

Senior wide-out LeBron Butts, a high school teammate of Alota, said he could sense the difference in attitude as soon as coach Charlie Weatherbie took command in 1995.

"My freshman year, Coach [George] Chaump would just tell us to play hard," said Butts. "But Weatherbie came right in and said we could win with his offensive system."

Butts' words were echoed by senior defensive tackle David Viger, another San Diego native.

"The feeling this team has now from when I first came here is like night and day," said Viger. "I wanted the strong academics the Naval Academy offered, but I want to win games just like any other athlete. That's why last year was so enjoyable."

Underclassmen like linebacker Travis Cooley, who tasted success for the first time in 1996, are just as determined to match or better last year's record.

"We've got extremely high expectations," said Cooley, who is expected to replace Clint Bruce as the stalwart of the defense.

In past years, Navy defenders always had to overcompensate for a lack of size, but that, too, has changed.

Ask Weatherbie if he can discern a difference in this year's team and he says: "I believe these young men have a very high confidence level. This team has a more serious, businesslike approach than last year, when we had loosey-goosey leaders like Clint Bruce."

But Weatherbie also said that the team's fortunes rest heavily on senior quarterback Chris McCoy's remaining healthy. Unlike last year, when he could call on reliable backup Ben Fay if the offense faltered, the current No. 2 quarterback is sophomore Steve Holley, who has no varsity experience.

A preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, McCoy ran and passed for 1,987 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. And when McCoy runs effectively, his receivers usually find open areas in the secondary.

"The nature of our spread offense is for McCoy to be the workhorse and do a lot of scrambling," said Weatherbie. "We just hope and pray that he stays healthy."

About the series

The Sun continues its look at the state's Division I college football teams. Coming:

Tomorrow: Maryland

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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