ANNAPOLIS -- For B.J. Mason, this football season at Navy started like most of the others -- with a position change.
The senior co-captain never has been sure of his true calling. In his years at Navy, he has been a quarterback, running back, split end, flanker and kick returner.
Mason entered practice last month as the returning split end. Next thing he knew he was the flanker. A plebe, Tom Pritchard, had shown to such advantage behind Mason at split end that the coaches wanted to have both of them on the field at the same time. With that, Mason became the flanker.
"It's easier for a freshman to learn split end," coach George Chaump said. "A flanker has to adjust as he reads the defense, and B.J. can recognize things better than a plebe."
Said Mason, "Flanker is more of a feeling type position. I'm working with a lot more of the field. A split end is told exactly where to run: Just get to a certain area."
Mason and Pritchard each caught three passes in Navy's 33-10 loss to Ball State Saturday. Chaump is intent on "getting the ball more often than that to B.J.," starting tomorrow (7 p.m.) against Virginia in Charlottesville.
Mason arrived here from Valdosta, Ga., as a quarterback, but because of his quickness he was moved to running back when he was a sophomore in 1989 and started the last four games of the season there. He led Navy in kickoff returns that year.
The regular split end last season, Mason caught 32 passes for 424 yards and a touchdown (against Notre Dame), and also scored on a reverse.
Mason admits he was shocked by the loss to Ball State, particularly by the 23-point margin. The Midshipmen opened last season with a victory over Richmond en route to a 5-6 record. Could Ball State be tougher?
"We were excited about the new offense last year, but had doubts as well as high hopes," Mason said. "We came into this season with an understanding of the offense, knowing what we wanted to do. But there were too many mistakes at crucial times."
The Middies feel the game turned on two plays. The first was a sure TD pass to Mason that was tipped by a defender. The other was a poor snap at the goal line that enabled Ball State to recover the ball in the end zone.
"That let the air out of our tent," Mason said.
* VAN MATRE GETS NOD: Sophomore quarterback Jason Van Matre again will start tomorrow after rushing for 64 yards and passing for 64 against Ball State. Van Matre's sins were few. Chaump debated until the last minute whether to start Van Matre or Brian Ellis.
"Jason earned the right to start based on his ability to move and spark the team," Chaump said. "He's quick and shifty and can make something out of nothing.
"You have to remember, too, that he was a wishbone quarterback in 1989 [in prep school] and a tailback last year. It's tough to become a quarterback in Division I-A with no experience."
* VIRGINIA QB HURT? Word from Charlottesville is that Virginia quarterback Matt Blundin hurt the thumb on his non-throwing (left) hand in last week's loss to Maryland. It is not expected to keep him out of the lineup, however.
* QUITE A GENE POOL: Virginia linebacker Yusef Jackson is the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Offensive lineman Bill Curry is the son of the Kentucky head coach (and former Colt) of the same name. Quarterback Mike Groh is the son of New York Giants defensive coordinator Al Groh.
* HOMEBODIES: Virginia has seven home games for the first time since 1911 and the fourth time in school history. The Cavs were 19-1-1 at home during those seasons of 1895, 1906 and 1911.