Van Matre catches on at tailback Navy's resurgence propeled by senior


During halftime of Navy's 31-3 rout of Colgate on Saturday, an irate woman, dressed in Navy blue, was venting her anger at the public address announcer.

"Can't they pronounce [Jason] Van Matre?" she shouted. "He's doing such a great job, and they can't even say his name right."

For the record, Navy's co-captain prefers his Dutch name to be pronounced "Van Meter" as the P.A. announcer did every time the all-purpose senior tailback bedeviled Colgate with one of his twisting runs or timely receptions.

Rival coaches don't even enter into the "Van Meter" or "Van Matre" debate. Instead, they simply complain after the final gun, "That No. 5 killed us."

Until this season, it translated into only seven victories, but George Chaump and his coaching staff dread thinking how much tougher the rebuilding job might have been without Van Matre.

"Jason deserves all the credit for being the bridge-builder in our program," said running back coach Frank Hickson. "His competitive fire is infectious. He has played just about everywhere for us these four years, but always does something positive.

"There's an old poem about making the path better for the next person. And that's what Jason has done. He has that unique gift of making something out of nothing."

Typical was an eye-catching run Van Matre made in the third quarter against Colgate. As described in the official play-by-play, "[Tony] Solliday completes pass to Van Matre who runs sideways, backwards, stumbles and finally gains 23 yards."

It may not have been as breathtaking as an Emmitt Smith -- through the secondary, but the extra effort set it apart.

"The thing about Jason is that the first defender never gets him," said Hickson. "I don't care if it's Lawrence Taylor or King Kong, Jason will always slip that first tackle.

"You can only teach a runner so much in how to work a man one-on-one. Jason just has that sixth sense. That's why in our new offense, it's so important for us to get the ball in his hands as often as possible."

Chaump seemingly has settled on the idea that Van Matre, who ranks 10th on the all-time Navy list in both rushing yardage (1,486 yards) and receiving (463), is most valuable to the Mids at his present tailback position.

He had spent his first three years shuttling between tailback and quarterback.

Van Matre started six games at quarterback his sophomore year and won MVP honors in the Army game, when he ran the ball 25 times for 89 yards and completed his only pass for a touchdown in Navy's 24-3 victory.

Last year, he became quarterback by default when Jim Kubiak, rated a superior passer, was sidelined by a knee injury in the season opener against Virginia.

But this season, Kubiak is healthy again, and Van Matre has returned to tailback, averaging 5.6 yards on 44 carries and catching a team-high 33 passes for 226 yards.

Van Matre admits he feels more comfortable at tailback than quarterback, where his passing technique never was confused with former Navy hero Roger Staubach.

"I've been playing this all-everything role since my high school days in Pensacola [Fla.]," he said. "I played some quarterback there, too, but, because of my size [5 feet 10, 183 pounds] I've always had trouble seeing over the linemen and reading coverage.

"Last year, I got more comfortable as the season wore on, but I'm just more at ease running and catching the ball."

Although the Mids are 4-2 after starting last year 0-6, Van Matre believes they are not being taken seriously, a fact borne out by 23rd-ranked Louisville being a 24-point favorite this Saturday.

"We know we're a better team, even if our offense hasn't been consistent," Van Matre said. "But we won't earn everyone's respect until we beat a football power like Louisville." And might Van Matre unleash an option pass to surprise the Cardinals?

For that, you only got a sly wink and a wait-and-see response.

NOTES: Although this marks the first meeting between Navy and Louisville, Chaump is no stranger to the Cardinals' Howard Schnellenberger. "When I was coaching at Marshall in 1987, Louisville scheduled us for a breather before playing Florida State," Chaump says. "We beat them, 34-31, on the last play of the game, and I can still hear Howard cursing on the sidelines.". . . . Navy's noon game against Notre Dame in Philadelphia next Saturday will be televised by ABC. The Mids return on the network against Army in their season finale at the Meadowlands, Dec. 4.

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