Navy takes aim at first winning mark since 1982


ANNAPOLIS -- Perhaps no one has a better perspective on Navy football than Capt. J.O. "Bo" Coppedge, USN (Ret.).

Bo played tackle for the Middies in the mid-40s. He was Navy'athletic director for 20 years until he retired and turned the job over to Jack Lengyel three years ago.

Annapolis being Coppedge's permanent home, he still goes out -- even on excruciatingly hot August afternoons -- and watches football practices.

And what does Coppedge think of the Navy team that will opeits season here tomorrow (7 p.m., WNAV-AM 1430) against Ball State?

"I've been out there watching 'em and let me say this: They'rbigger than they have been. They look stronger. They've had a year now to learn George Chaump's system. I think we're going to be all right," said the well-tanned Coppedge.

"All right," of course, starts with having a winning season, whicNavy hasn't done since going 6-5 in 1982.

Coppedge knows that well. He was the athletic director whhired Gary Tranquill and Elliot Uzelac in the '80s as he searched for a coach who could restore Navy football to respectability.

Tranquill, now quarterbacks coach with the Cleveland Brownswas 20-34-1 as Navy's head coach. Uzelac, now offensive coordinator at Ohio State, was 8-25 at the academy.

Now, though, Coppedge feels Chaump has Navy going in thright direction. Chaump, starting his second season at Navy, agrees.

"We look more like a major college football team now," saiChaump, who in nine years as a head college coach has had only two losing seasons -- including Navy's 5-6 record last year. "We're definitely bigger. Through weight training and eating well, we've picked up 10-15 pounds per man."

Chaump wanted to improve two areas. Size and strength rankeNo. 2. No. 1 was morale.

"The morale and spirit on the football team now are like night anday compared to when we got here," Chaump said. "I've never been around a team that put forth so much effort to prepare for the season. Being much stronger I think we'll be more competitive."

That won't be as hard this year as it was at Navy a few years ago. Ball State and Bowling Green have replaced the likes of Syracuse and Pitt on the schedule.

Still, Navy is a young team with major question marks.

Chaump isn't even sure yet which of two quarterbacks -- BriaEllis and Jason Van Matre -- will start. No wonder. Neither took a snap last year at that position. Van Matre wasn't even a quarterback. He was a tailback.

Ellis is considered the better passer of the two, and Van Matrthe better runner, but as Chaump said: "I think Ellis is a little better runner than we gave him credit for, and Van Matre has become a better passer than we thought."

At running back, Chaump has gone for big, tough guys. DukIngraham, converted from linebacker, is now the 226-pound junior tailback. Brad Stramanak is a 204-pound sophomore fullback.

"We're not expecting miracles this year, but we do believe we'vmade a lot of progress," Chaump said.

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