Number is out on Navy's Kane Football: The senior started as a quarterback, hence jersey No. 14, but he has found his niche as a defensive end.

October 15, 1997|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

The first mystery senior defensive end Denis Kane has to clear up is why he is wearing No. 14 on his Naval Academy football uniform.

"That goes back to spring practice my sophomore year when I was still listed as a quarterback," Kane said. "By the time they switched me to defense, all the high numbers had been given out, so I've stuck with 14."

But Kane, who was an all-Philadelphia choice as a quarterback for Germantown (Pa.) Academy, has not regretted the move for a moment while becoming an integral part of a Navy defense that ranks 20th in the nation.

He arrived in Annapolis in 1994 with the mind of a quarterback, but he has the heart and aggressive soul of a defensive lineman.

"It's definitely a different mind-set," Kane said of his switch. "The first few games I got to play on defense, I was real wide-eyed, not knowing what to expect and awed by the crowds and noise.

"But Andy Person, who was the starting end and from my hometown, took me under his wing. He told me to calm down and treat the games like practice."

Tall and angular at 6 feet 5, 225 pounds, Kane's physique is mindful of former Baltimore Colts linebacker Ted Hendricks. He often gives away 50 pounds to offensive tackles, but using his quickness and wingspan, he has swatted away four passes, matching the entire secondary in that statistic.

Going into Saturday's home game against 0-6 Virginia Military, Kane has been credited with 20 tackles and an interception. Most of his 11 solo tackles seemingly have been timed to disrupt a rival's momentum.

Like Kane, Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie is certain he made the right move in shifting the one-time quarterback to defense.

"When I came here three years ago, we gave everyone who wanted a shot at quarterback a chance," Weatherbie said. "Denis threw the ball well, but basically he was a drop-back quarterback. And we found two players -- Chris McCoy and Ben Fay -- who were more suited to run the option."

But Kane's athleticism, which had made him a three-sport letterman in high school, caught Weatherbie's eye.

"At first, we really didn't know where to put him," the coach said. "He might have been a tight end if we used one in our system.

"Finally, we tried him at defensive end, and, after a year of backing up Person, Denis has really come into his own this season.

"With his background, he has a quarterback's perspective in reading plays, especially against an option offense. He plays well against the rush, but also has excellent anticipation against the pass."

Said Kane: "I think that statistic [pass deflections] has a lot to do with playing basketball. Basically, it's a matter of timing like intercepting an outlet pass."

There was a time when Kane considered giving up football for basketball. A shooting guard with good range, he was recruited for basketball by both Penn and Lehigh after graduating high school.

He was still playing both sports at Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I., when he cast his lot with the football team.

"It was mostly a result of playing with guys like David Viger, Gervy Alota, Michael Ogden and Chris Person at NAPS," Kane said. "We were a very close-knit group. We saw ourselves as becoming part of a Navy defense that would turn the football program around after all the losing years."

Kane and his fellow NAPS graduates would turn their dreams into reality last year when the Midshipmen ended a 13-year losing streak with an 8-3 record and an Aloha Bowl victory.

But Kane admits he almost did not make it to Annapolis.

"My year at NAPS was the toughest experience I've been through," he said, recalling his adjustment to military life. "I was always looking to leave, asking coaches where I might be able to play football other than Navy.

"But after making it through that year, I knew I could make it at the Academy, and I've really enjoyed my four years, playing at this level and feeling I've had something to do with the recent success."

The 2-3 start by the Mids this year has obviously been a major disappointment for a veteran team with lofty expectations, but Kane is not ready to write off the rest of the season.

"Before our practice Monday, [senior center] Brian Drechsler spoke for all of us," Kane said. "Brian said that it's a six-game season for us now, and we have a legitimate chance of winning all those games and still possibly getting a bowl bid."

That's a long shot, but Kane, who hopes to become a Marine officer, already has beaten the odds in becoming a solid defensive end by willpower and perseverance.

Perhaps that has to do with spelling Denis with a single "N."

"My mother named me after St. Denis," Kane said. "Kids would tease me that I didn't know how to spell my name, but my mother always said, 'It's going to make you speak up and stand tall.' "

As Kane and his Navy coaches discovered, mother knows best.

Pub Date: 10/15/97

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