Mids' rock, Eckel, set to shake off injury

Bruising fullback focuses on Tech, not sore shoulder

Houston Bowl notebook

College Football

December 28, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON - Navy's battering ram is ready to rumble.

Sore shoulder notwithstanding, fullback Kyle Eckel is looking forward to the challenge of meeting Big 12 Conference member Texas Tech in Tuesday's Houston Bowl.

"This is a great opportunity because we haven't been here [in a bowl game] for a long time," Eckel said. "I don't think a lot of people are giving us a chance, but that's OK. We've been underdogs almost all the time. We're used to that role."

The Red Raiders are 12 1/2 -point favorites in a game that pits Navy's No. 1 rushing offense against Texas Tech's No. 1 passing attack.

It will not be Eckel's favorite kind of day, like the one he flourished in against Army in hometown Philadelphia - snowy and cold. Eckel had 152 yards and scored twice in a 34-6 victory to finish the regular season with a team-leading 1,178 yards.

"This is like springtime," Eckel said as Navy practiced in 70-degree weather.

Although he will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test after the season and has had his injured arm in a sling at times, there is no way Eckel will miss any of this action. He is an old-school football player who would play on both sides of the football if the coaches would allow it.

"This will be a big thrill for everybody, including the brigade who comes to watch," said Eckel, who is a fan favorite because of his bulldozing style. "What we expect is a win. Anything less will be disappointing."

Johnson: `We're prepared'

Coach Paul Johnson said he believes the team is ready for Texas Tech despite limited practice time after the Army game.

"I think we're prepared and know what we want to do," Johnson said. "It's just a question of executing it. We're not going to out-athlete Texas Tech, but our guys know what to do."

Navy had three practices in Annapolis before Christmas, broke for more than a week for the holidays, then scheduled three practices and a walk-through here. Johnson believes that since the team played Dec. 6 - a week later than most - that was sufficient.

Et cetera

Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said yesterday that there is "a chance" that President Bush, who is at his ranch in nearby Crawford, and Bush's father, the former president, will attend the game. ... The Houston Bowl is one of only two postseason games matching teams with 50 percent or higher graduation rates among its football players. The Capital One Bowl, with Purdue vs. Georgia, is the other. ... Texas Tech played seven bowl teams (N.C. State, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma). Navy played one (TCU). The Midshipmen also lost to Delaware, the Division I-AA national champion.

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