NEW ORLEANS -- When Navy invades the Superdome tonight, it will be a homecoming for both host Tulane and Midshipmen wide receiver Jimmy Screen.
"This is as close to home as I can get," said Screen, a native of Baton Rouge, La. "I grew up a big fan of Louisiana State, where my dad was the starting quarterback in the early '60s.
"Tulane was always LSU's biggest game of the year. So for me, this game is like playing Army for the rest of our guys."
There will be about 50 relatives and friends from the area serving as Screen's private cheering section when the Mids (2-1) try to win three straight for the first time since 1981, when George Welsh was coach.
Screen, a stocky 5 feet 10, 190 pounds, is one of the key ingredients in Navy's revitalized passing game that is averaging 238 yards -- compared to 103 yards on the ground. After catching 14 passes as a junior last season, Screen already has nine this year as one of quarterback Jim Kubiak's favorite targets.
Screen's progress is fairly remarkable considering he did not play organized football until his junior year in prep school and did not start until his final year at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge.
"Tennis was my sport," he said. "I got burned out and decided to try football. My three best friends in school -- Scott Ray, Jesse Daigle and Leo Able -- were all on the football team. Basically, I was a tennis player masquerading as a football player. I really didn't start maturing until I went to Navy prep school in Newport [R.I.]."
Screen admits he had some doubts about committing to the Naval Academy. But defensive end David Shaw, a teammate at the Naval Academy Prep School, grabbed him one day after practice and said, "C'mon, Jimmy, we're all going to Annapolis."
"Dave was too big to argue with," said Screen.
As a Louisiana native, Screen is well-acquainted with Tulane's recent problems, which are similar to Navy's football frustrations the past decade.
The university that produced former New York Giants star Eddie Price, Redskins coach Richie Petitbon, former Baltimore Colts defensive tackle Don Joyce and Philadelphia Eagles tackle and coach Ed Khayat, has won only 36 of 123 games since 1982.
Tulane (1-3) has changed head coaches four times during that stretch, with former Dartmouth quarterback and coach Buddy Teevens now in his second season.
Teevens went 2-9 his first year, and is still rebuilding with an offense led by sophomore quarterback, Michigan transfer Craig Randall, who took his first snap from center in the season opener against Alabama.
Randall has struggled, completing 44 percent of his passes. He has thrown seven interceptions and two touchdowns.
"We're really a young team," Teevens said. "We're playing a lot of redshirt freshmen and sophomores. We feel we're making progress, but we're having trouble moving the ball, especially on the ground."
Injuries to key players have been another roadblock to the Green Wave's recovery.
Leading ground gainer Jerald Sowell, who had a spectacular 98-yard touchdown run against Alabama, sat out last week's 36-10 loss to Mississippi State with a sore ankle.
Wide receiver and co-captain Wil Ursin, who ranks second on the school's all-time reception list (138), has been hampered by a sprained knee. Sowell and Ursin are expected to play tonight, the main reason Tulane is a slight favorite.