Candeto steps to the plate

Mids: The chance to play baseball and football drew Craig Candeto to Annapolis. Now Navy is relying on him to make contact as the starting quarterback.

August 30, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

If Navy quarterback Craig Candeto had agreed to give up baseball three years ago, there's a good chance he'd be playing football for Georgia Tech right now.

The Yellow Jackets, you see, wanted him badly after he finished his standout career at DeLand High School in Orange City, Fla., where he gained more than 6,500 yards of total offense. But Candeto wouldn't let go of his dream to play both sports in college. On a recruiting trip, Navy assured him he'd be able to play football in the fall and baseball in the spring. Tech wasn't sold on that idea, and it made the decision easy. Navy all the way.

Fast forward to 2001. Life took one of those quirky twists, and Candeto, as a sophomore, ended up as quarterback of the Mids during a 70-7 home defeat, which just happened to come courtesy of ... Georgia Tech.

The 63-point margin was the worst loss in school history. So it's worth asking the question: Any regrets?

"None," said Candeto, now a junior. "I know this is where I'm supposed to be. It definitely hasn't always been easy, but I've grown a lot here. I know it's the right place."

So right, in fact, that Candeto is willing to be downright optimistic about Navy's chances this year. True, he did spend most of last season on the bench, starting the first two games only because senior Brian Madden was suspended for disciplinary reasons. But he's not keeping the spot warm until someone else returns anymore.

This is Candeto's team. He has a new coach (Paul Johnson) and a new offense (the spread option) to work with, and the Mids will have a clean slate tomorrow night when they face SMU in Dallas. Last season's 0-10 campaign is little more than a distant memory.

"What we did last year doesn't affect this year," Candeto said. "That's the great thing about football. If you win 14 games, or if you lose every one of them like we did, you still get to start the year with a record of 0-0."

To be honest, not every part of the 2001 campaign is worth forgetting. The first two losses, to Temple and to Georgia Tech by a combined score of 115-33, matter if only because they served as Candeto's baptism by fire into the world of big-time college football. Growing up, Candeto and his father, Larry, spent countless Saturdays playing imaginary football games in their back yard.

So when Candeto tossed two touchdown passes against Temple in his first collegiate start, it was no great shock. After all, he'd done it in his head thousands of times.

"Playing those two games was huge for me," Candeto said. "That experience is going to be good for me in the future. The Temple game was kind of a dream come true."

"The Georgia Tech game was even better because you see those guys on TV all the time. The outcome was certainly disappointing, but to get a feel for the crowd and the big-time college football experience, that was great."

In an offense where the quarterback makes most of his decisions in the heat of the moment, that experience should come in handy. Johnson's spread offense is different from the traditional option because there is only one running back in the backfield, plus the quarterback can hand off to one of two slot backs lined up outside the tackles.

It requires quick thinking by the quarterback and a willingness to tuck it and run, which is why Candeto's baseball talents won't hurt, either. A starting outfielder on Navy's 2001 Patriot League championship team, Candeto is no stranger to pressure. One of his four home runs last season was the game-winner in a 3-2 victory over Army.

"He's got some experience and he's played some other sports, so hopefully that will help him," Johnson said. "Still, he's never started a game that we've won, so that's part of it, too."

Under Johnson, Candeto certainly will get a chance to prove himself. In 1995 and `96, when Johnson was Navy's offensive coordinator under Charlie Weatherbie, quarterback Chris McCoy rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 23 touchdowns. And while no one expects Candeto to be the runner McCoy was, how well he directs the team will be a major key to Navy's success this season.

"He's a really great leader out there," said senior Grant Moody, a two-year starter at left guard. "Even last year you could see that, just the way he took control of the huddle. ... He's got a maturity far beyond his years."

Candeto has dreams of being a pilot someday and says he'll likely opt for joining the Marines when his playing days (football and baseball) are over. But until then, he has an offense to lead, and a losing streak to help end.

"When you have the ball in your hands, you have to be able to lead people," Candeto said. "As a quarterback, the guys are looking for someone to follow. You can do it with a lot of talking, but when your teammates really respond is when you go out and show them with your actions. You show them that you're there leading them for a reason."

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