ANNAPOLIS -- Brian Ellis spent his first three years on the Navy football team in the background.
As a freshman and sophomore, he watched Alton Grizzard and Gary McIntosh battle for the quarterback job. Last season, he competed for the starting spot, but lost out to speedy Jason Van Matre. This year, the nod went to strong-armed Jim Kubiak.
It seemed, until last weekend, that Ellis was destined to become a four-year clipboard carrier.
"It's been tough," Ellis said yesterday. "Nobody likes to finish second. No one ever remembers who finishes second."
On Saturday, Ellis gets his chance to be remembered. With Kubiak out three to six weeks after suffering a dislocated shoulder in last week's 53-0 loss to Virginia, Ellis will start when Navy (0-1) travels to Boston College (2-0).
Ellis' inexperience extends beyond game days. In preseason practice, Kubiak took nearly every snap on offense.
"We planned a scheme and put so much into it based on the strength of Jim Kubiak," coach George Chaump said. "But that doesn't mean Brian can't do the job. He can adapt and pick things up very well."
Ellis, a senior political science major, obviously welcomes the opportunity.
"I don't have an exceptionally strong arm, but I throw well," Ellis said yesterday. "I don't have the speed of Jason and Grizzard, but I have a combination of both. I know what's going on. Knowing what's going on has a lot to do with success."
Ellis was a tight end on a state championship team as a junior and quarterbacked a regional finalist as a senior at Morrow High School in Georgia. The success earned Ellis, 6 feet 2, 211 pounds, scholarship offers from Navy, Army, Air Force and a host of Division I-AA schools.
"[Former Navy coach Elliot Uzelac] came to my house and assured me Navy was switching from the wishbone to a more pro-style offense," Ellis said. "I wanted to play I-A football, and I obviously wasn't a wishbone quarterback. So for the academics and football, Navy was the best offer I had."
So Ellis came to Annapolis and watched as Navy ran a mostly wishbone attack in his one year under Uzelac. Then Chaump arrived in 1990, and, with his history of passing the ball, Ellis felt perhaps his time had come. But Chaump decided to go with a running offense, leaving Ellis on the sidelines.
"I expected things to be brighter," Ellis said. "But those things happen, and you just have to deal with it."
Ellis played in mop-up duty last season, completing 11 of 30 passes with two interceptions. But he'll be playing under entirely different circumstances Saturday. Boston College allowed just 75 yards in total offense and recorded six sacks in a 49-0 win over Northwestern last week.
Chaump doesn't plan to make major offensive adjustments with Kubiak out.
"I don't know if we can afford to do that," Chaump said. "We have to try to get Brian adapted to our offense."
As evident by the 53-0 score, Chaump has other worries. A week ago, his team was confident and talking of upsetting Virginia. But, after the defeat, the Midshipmen are attempting to regroup.
"We know we have a problem," Chaump said. "We know we have a challenge and we know we have to get out there and do something about it."
The ability of the offense to do something will center around Ellis. And he has waited a long time for the chance.
"This is it, and it feels good I'm going to get to play," Ellis said. "We'll do anything we have to in order to win."