In '98, Dingle flying high Navy: After three years as a backup fullback, and resisting an offer from the linebackers coach to switch to defense, a senior who hopes to become a pilot blossoms as the starter.

October 03, 1998|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

After Irv Dingle batted .500 and displayed power his senior year playing the outfield at Fairfield High School in northern California, the Los Angeles Dodgers offered him a contract.

But Dingle had already chosen his career path. He made up his mind when he was 5 years old and accompanied his father, a 20-year Navy man, on a family tour of an aircraft carrier in San Francisco Bay.

"The first time I saw those Navy jets fly overhead and break the sonic boom, my whole body tingled. I was sold," recalled Dingle.

"Then I watched them take off from that carrier, and I couldn't imagine doing anything better with my life than becoming a Navy pilot. It was just like the movie 'Top Gun.' I thought I'd like living on the edge, or, like they say, being the best I could be."

But Dingle, a senior at the Naval Academy, felt more like an outsider his first three years as a fullback on the football team.

Despite his speed and size (5 feet 11, 218 pounds), the California native was used strictly in a mop-up role and on special teams.

His first two years, he was third-string behind Omar Nelson and Tim Cannada. Last season, he was limited to 46 carries with Cannada and quarterback Chris McCoy controlling the running game.

"I was real close with Omar and Tim. They did a great job, and we shared a bond we called 'Fullback Pride,' " he said.

"Sure, there were times it got frustrating on and off the field. Being a service brat and going to Navy Prep School, I had an advantage over a lot of my teammates. But you still get tired of being harassed as an underclassman.

"I considered leaving several times before the end of my sophomore year, when you still have an out before your service commitment kicks in. But I knew deep down that I still wanted to fly for the Navy, and I hope to be in flight school in Pensacola next year. I'm the kind of person, if I start something, I want to finish the job."

Dingle's patience and perseverance have also paid off on the football field. After being anointed the No. 1 fullback this year, he has more than fulfilled his early promise. In the Midshipmen's first three games, he has rushed for 261 yards on 46 carries, a 5.7 average.

"He's really come a long way in the four years he's been here," said coach Charlie Weatherbie. "He has the brute strength to run over people, but also the quickness to find the seams and avoid tackles. He's a horse as much as a slasher."

In Navy's intricate option offense, Dingle is as much a tailback as a fullback and can use his excellent hands to catch short passes or pitchouts from junior quarterback Steve Holley.

He displayed all his running talents in Navy's 38-24 victory over Kent two weeks ago, rushing for 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Dingle was on track for another monster game against Tulane last Saturday, but had to settle for 93 yards when Navy fell behind early in the second half and was forced to go to the air.

Dingle has been one of the big positives in the early season for the Mids (1-2), who face heavily favored West Virginia in Annapolis today.

If nothing else, he has proved to the Navy coaching staff that he is playing the right position after linebackers coach Tommy Raye tried to encourage him to switch to defense as a sophomore.

"Dingle made it clear he wanted to stick on offense, and I'm glad he did," said Weatherbie. "He works his tail off and has really been an inspirational leader on this team."

"Top Gun" might be a more apt description.

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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