Navy's homecoming game isn't scheduled for another week, but tomorrow's is the one that takes back Gene Reese.
A football and track all-state selection at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., Reese will be feeling very comfortable and eager to perform well when the 0-5 Midshipmen strive to end an NCAA record 36-game losing streak against 20th-ranked Notre Dame at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
"I've got about 30 people coming to the game, so I'm going to have a big following," said the sophomore running back. "I haven't played that close to home in a long while, so I'm anticipating it."
Reese is a rarity at the academy, a player who lettered as a plebe after breaking into the slotback rotation last season in an upset victory at West Virginia. He has since become a starter at a position that lost John Vereen, Steve Holley and the suspended Dre Brittingham.
"I was pretty surprised that I got to the varsity," Reese said. "I planned on spending last year on the JVs learning the offense. But at West Virginia, I did OK [12 carries for 28 yards in 1999], and I stayed up. But, really, in this offense, it really doesn't matter who starts. You have to perform."
He is only 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds, but Reese runs a 4.42 for the 40-yard dash and has shown good hands, with three catches for 36 yards against Air Force.
Like most of his offensive mates, Reese has been frustrated by the team's inability to sustain marches and score, but he's not down.
"We're still being positive. We know we've killed ourselves most of these games, and we feel like we can improve by focusing on fundamentals," he said. "That's where we've been falling short. It's frustrating every time you have a play for a loss [Navy has lost 282 yards on the ground alone in five games], but we know we're close, because it's never the same person's mistake every time."
And Notre Dame - with its tradition, mystique and countrywide fan base - has a way of bringing out the best in the Midshipmen, who nearly upset them last season in Indiana.
"You know it's good competition when you play them, especially when you go there," Reese said. "They always put very good players on the field. And last year's game, when we were so close, is definitely motivation for us. The referee's spot was kind of questionable, and we lost. But we know we can play with them."
Reese said beating 3-2 Notre Dame - because of the long winless streak - would have almost the same impact as beating Army.
"Army is always going to be Army," he said. "But this game is worth so much in a different manner. We have a bell in our locker room that is supposed to ring every time we beat Notre Dame. It hasn't rung much for a long time."
Asked who gets to ring the bell should the Midshipmen win, coach Charlie Weatherbie said: "Everybody gets a shot. We'll wear it out."
Reese said it is not overly important whether Brian Broadwater or Ed Malinowski starts at quarterback for Navy, which undermined itself with two lost fumbles, a blocked punt and costly penalties last week at Air Force.
"It really doesn't matter," he said. "Ed came in hot last week and gave us some life, so they stayed with him."
Navy has not beaten a ranked team since Sept. 20, 1985, when it upset Virginia - also 20th then - in Charlottesville, 17-13.
NOTE: Navy assistant Danilo Robinson, who coaches outside linebackers, has been recuperating after having surgery last month to repair a small hole in his heart. He coached in the opening game after the hole was detected Aug. 31. He is expected back in his office soon.