One of the most interesting and exciting opening-game programs in recent years will take place tomorrow night at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, beginning with the Midshipmen march-on at 6:30.

The kickoff is scheduled at 7 p.m., with the Mids meeting the Ball State Cardinals from Muncie, Ind., in what should be a good test for Coach George Chaump's young squad.

The evening's non-football festivities will feature a special "Military Appreciation Night" with military charge, a salute to Desert Storm veterans, a Marine Corps display, a possible Seal Team parachutejump and/or a military plane flyover and a halftime ceremony honoring military dignitaries.

As to the game itself, any pre-conceived reference to the Cardinals as an opening game "patsy" should be discounted quickly. Coach Paul Schudel, a graduate of Miami University of Ohio's famed coaching factory, will lead into Annapolis a veteran teamthat is expected to make a serious run at the Mid-American Conference title.

Returning 32 lettermen, including practically the entire defense from a squad that won its final four games in 1990, the Cardinals hope to add to their record of leading the Mid-American Conference in victories the past three seasons.

Observers of the MAC pointto regularly scheduled shoot-outs with Big Ten members, West Virginia and Cincinnati. Ball State even ventures into the Southwest Conference after the Navy game to tangle with Texas Christian on Sept. 14.

So, it will be no picnic tomorrow for the Mids, particularly against a conference-leading defense that will match them pound for pound. The Ball State offense is led by sophomore quarterback Mike Neil, who, as a freshman last year, connected on 51 percent of his passes for 1,004 yards and nine touchdowns.

Navy supporters who missed the preseason scrimmages hardly will recognize the Mids' starting lineups. For example, sophomore Jason Van Matre and junior Brian Ellis never have played the signal-caller slot in a varsity uniform, and starting tailback Duke Ingraham lettered last year as a linebacker.

But hopes are high as co-captains Byron Ogden at linebacker and B. J. Mason at wide receiver lead a spirited and confident squad that will field a bigger and stronger lineup than in recent years.

The biggest improvement is in the offensive line where veterans Mike Davis (6-foot-3, 268 pounds), David Lillefloren (6-1, 240), Bill Bensch (6-6, 258), Dan Dunaway (6-3, 252) and Carl Voss (6-6, 270), will open holes for runners Ingraham, Brad Stramak and Billy James, giving passers a chance to throw, a weakness in 1990.

Mason, an outstanding flanker last year, will lead the receiving duties along with split end Che Bolden and tight end Ton Gilless.

The defensive line is shaping up withtackles Bo Goodson (6-1, 234) and Chris Alexander (6-4, 245) and nose tackle Dan Pidgeon (6-2, 254), and linebackers Bob Kuberski (6-5, 267), Byron Ogden (6-0, 212), Mark Ellis (6-0, 200), David Shaw (6-0, 227) and Steve Himelspach (6-0, 227).

Defensive secondary responsibilities will go to Chris Cordero (5-8, 176), Bill Yancey (6-1, 179) and George Chatlos (5-11, 188).

The place-kicker is Dave Gwinn, the kick-off specialist is Tom Frosch and the punter is Jefferson Triplett.

The Mids will be bigger and stronger due to Chaump's acquisition of a strength and conditioning coach, Phil Emery from the University of Tennessee, and an exhaustive preseason training schedule.

But the jury is still out as the new lineups take the field on offenseand defense, with 10 of the 11 offensive starters playing new positions and the defensive secondary thin in experience.

Nevertheless, Chaump proclaims that "Navy football is much further ahead than we were a year ago at this time. We should be exciting. Our morale has been super, and we've been able to tap into the spirit of the Naval Academy."

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