Navy tries, but team's focus isn't just on BC

War commitment looms amid new security

College Football

September 21, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Of all the venues that play host to collegiate football, the nation's service academies were among the most directly affected by the tragic events of last week.

For the future Navy and Marine Corps officers at the Naval Academy, their lives were forever altered by the terrorists' acts of Sept. 11.

As a potential target for attack, the academy immediately was placed on the highest alert status, Delta. Boats patrolled the nearby Severn River. Barricades were erected. The strictest security prevailed.

Initially, all non-essential personnel, including the football coaches, were evacuated. According to Navy safety Matt Brooks, "we weren't allowed out of Bancroft Hall [the dormitory]" in the immediate aftermath.

"We staggered to eat. We weren't allowed in large groups in one area at one time."

Security remains at a high level. Only employees and essential suppliers are allowed on the campus. Those seeking to enter are either turned away or undergo intense searches and identification checks.

"Patrol boats. Sandbags. Machine guns. Standing in line to have your ID checked. Car searches. It was pretty weird," said Navy defensive captain Jake Bowen.

In this milieu, the football team had difficulty focusing on a scheduled game at Northwestern. The game was eventually canceled.

"We went back to practice [last] Wednesday, and it wasn't a very good one," coach Charlie Weatherbie said. "It looked like they were sluggish and tired, like they had been watching CNN all night. Thursday was a little better, and Friday was good."

Now, routine has returned as Navy prepares to play Boston College tomorrow at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.

"There are additional pressures and worries on our minds," Bowen said. "But it's back to business as usual. We're looking at BC."

Navy's seniors realize they might face a wartime environment when they graduate in May. They say football is preparing them for what may lie ahead.

"Sports can teach you a lot," said Bowen, who is expected to play after recovering from a sprained ankle. "You're under intense pressure and have to perform."

Weatherbie said academy students "know they're at a special place. They know when they graduate they have a five-year commitment. They know they have greater responsibilities than at a similar institution."

The horrific acts could place a greater focus on the academies and "a little more importance on the Air Force game and Army-Navy with the general public," Brooks said.

Boston College coach Tom O'Brien, a Naval Academy graduate, said: "Obviously, there is more patriotism. If that translates into more fans, that's good for the Naval Academy."

A crowd of more than 30,000 is expected for tomorrow's game, although two government-associated fan groups have canceled.

"When you're playing football, it's all about playing and thinking football," Bowen said. "But the flyover before and the end of the game are going to be very sentimental."

NOTE: The game time for the 102nd playing of the Army-Navy game, scheduled for Dec. 1 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, has been moved up 30 minutes to 11:30 a.m. to accommodate CBS-TV. Navy has won three of the last four meetings from the Cadets, including a 30-28 victory last year.

Next for Navy

Opponent: Boston College (1-1)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis

When: Tomorrow, noon

Radio: WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Boston College by 21

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