Before the Naval Academy football team kicked off its 1995 season against Southern Methodist at the Cotton Bowl last Saturday, new coach Charlie Weatherbie took a close look at fledgling quarterback Chris McCoy to detect any signs of doubt.
"It was amazing," Weatherbie said. "Looking in his eyes, he appeared more confident and calm for this game than he was for some scrimmages we had. It was a godsend. He was really prepared, mentally and physically."
All McCoy did in his varsity debut was shatter one national record and set two academy marks. In directing the Midshipmen to a 33-2 victory, the elusive 5-foot-10, 184-pound quarterback amassed 398 yards in total offense, including 273 rushing.
"I don't think there were a whole lot of doubts that he would play well because our offensive system is made for him," said Weatherbie. "But I don't think anyone would have predicted he'd have 253 yards rushing by halftime."
Asked if he had any trepidation running onto the field for his first start, McCoy said, "I was thinking more about their linebackers than worrying about myself. I expected to win."
Overnight, McCoy, who had strictly played defensive back for the plebes last season, was listed atop the nation's offensive leaders. And he'll get a chance to add to those numbers tonight at 6, when Navy play Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J.
"I always expected great things from Chris," said Jackie Hammond, his former principal at Randolph/Clay High School in Cuthbert, Ga. "And I was really disappointed when he didn't attract a lot of attention when he graduated.
"After Georgia Southern turned him down, Chris was kind of resigned to going to Albany [Ga.] State. But I thought he deserved to play at a bigger school.
"He scored close to 1,200 on his SATs, which is exceptional for a kid from a small rural school. So I just took a chance and called the Naval Academy to see if they might be interested."
Hammond's call was answered by then-Navy assistant coach Mike McCoy (no relation).
"I sent him four game tapes and waited for a reply," said Hammond. "On the day Chris was to sign with Albany State, he was in my office with his mother. He told me, 'I really don't want to go there.'
"And then, incredibly, the phone rang. And it was Mike McCoy, calling from Annapolis. He said he looked at only one half of the first tape and said to himself, 'He can play for Navy.' "
McCoy comes from humble roots. He was raised in Morris, in the southwestern part of Georgia.
"Morris has no stoplights, no post office, no downtown," said Mike Slinkard, who coached McCoy at Randolph/Clay. "There are just a few houses tucked into the timberland."
To get to school, McCoy hiked a mile through the woods and boarded a bus for a 12-mile ride.
"He's a special kid, and his parents gave him a great work ethic," said Slinkard, who is coaching prep football near Atlanta.
"When he was a sophomore, he intercepted nine passes and the school made the state playoffs for the first time. He was only 160 pounds, soaking wet. But you could see his leadership abilities. He's got a heart as big as Georgia."
Again, at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., McCoy was deemed too small to play quarterback, but perfectly suited for the secondary and the military atmosphere.
"He was just a joy to work with," said NAPS coach Bryan Brouse, a former football captain and assistant coach at Towson State.
"A lot of kids come up here and don't know how to handle the regimen and strict structure of a military school. But Chris always knew when it was time to study and time to play football."
Despite playing quarterback his last two years in high school, McCoy again had to adjust to defensive back.
"It was frustrating for him at first, but he handled it well," said Brouse. "He's bright and very coachable. And I'm not the least bit surprised by his success at Navy."
McCoy received little fanfare before the SMU game, but his teammates had an inkling of things to come.
"We got our first look at Chris when he ran the scout teams against us last season," said senior defensive end Andy Person. "He ran the Air Force wishbone, and gave us more problems than the Air Force quarterback. You couldn't get a clean shot at him. You knew he would be a great quarterback."
The defense barely had time to catch its breath last season when the Mids favored a passing game that led to frequent turnovers. The running attack generated 1.9 yards a carry.
"With McCoy running the show, we have the feeling good things are going to happen," said junior linebacker Clint Bruce. "Last year, on third-down situations, you almost sensed we wouldn't make it. Now we have just the opposite attitude."
It did not take long for the McCoy, 20, to establish himself.
"He's the man," said running back Omar Nelson. "He's only a sophomore and didn't play quarterback last year. But when we're in the huddle, he says shut up, and we shut up. He's in charge, and I expect him to be in charge."
' IN THE AREA TODAY . . .
Time, Game, TV
1 p.m., Towson State, at Dayton None
6 p.m., Navy at Rutgers, None
7 p.m., West Virginia at Maryland, None
7:30 p.m., Morgan State at Liberty, None
. . . AND AROUND THE COUNTRY
Noon, N.C. State at Florida State, 13, 7
p.m., Tennessee at Florida, 2, 7
6:30 p.m., Michigan at Boston College, ESPN