Reality enters Navy's huddle

Military strikes put games in perspective

College Football

October 12, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Naval Academy football players realize they someday may be called upon to address a far more important mission than winning a game.

As future Navy and Marine Corps officers, they will be required to defend the nation when the need arises, as it did in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In the meantime, they - and their brethren at the U.S. Military Academy and Air Force Academy - must cope with the immediate task, the combination of military, academic and athletic demands that make them unique.

Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie said his team hashed over the international situation shortly after the attacks, but, "There is no reason to dwell on it.

"When we resumed football, they were ready to get anything external off their minds. We talked about it the first week it happened, and that was it."

The reminders that they attended a special school were everywhere when the academy went on high alert: patrol boats on the Severn River, sandbags, machine gun posts at the entrances, strict requirements for entering and leaving.

Now that the country is striking back in Afghanistan, players' thoughts sometimes drift to former comrades whom they believe to be in the thick of the military action.

"I think with all the service academies, the thought in the back of your mind is that you're not just playing for yourself," said defensive end Dan Person.

At least three former Navy football players - linebacker Clint Bruce, a bulwark of the 1996 Aloha Bowl team; quarterback-slotback Steve Holley, and center Brian Dreschler - are now special forces operatives (Navy Seals).

And, Person said, current linebacker Dan Ryno "has one older brother that's going to be involved [in the conflict] one way or another.

"We usually keep in touch by e-mail, and we want to let them know that we're behind them."

Security precautions prevent them from knowing the whereabouts or the assignments of the ex-players.

"This is real close to home for all of us. It will directly impact us all in the next three years," said sophomore linebacker Andy Sinitire.

"It makes you realize why you came here and what your job really is," said quarterback Brian Madden.

Linebacker Ryan Hamilton said, "We're just kids playing football right now," when asked about the players' role.

Every Navy game is sprinkled with patriotic activities: the march-on of the Brigade of Midshipmen and the flyover by Navy jets. And then there's the etchings of battles on the facade at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

But the past two games have been particularly poignant, with the addition of "God Bless America" afterward and moments of silence for the terrorists' victims.

Even the Navy-Air Force game last weekend was different.

"In the big picture, the game wasn't as important anymore," said Air Force defensive end Justin Pendry. "Knowing that in the next couple of years we could be fighting side by side puts it in perspective. ... The whole situation was very emotional."

Next for Navy

Opponent: Rice (4-1)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

When: Tomorrow, noon

Radio: WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (1300 AM), WMAL (630 M)

Line: Rice by 7

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