The Naval Academy is getting an early jump on the traditional college football powers by starting a marketing and promotional campaign to push Chris McCoy for the 1997 Heisman Trophy.
"It will be built around the theme, 'The Real McCoy,' " sports information director Scott Strasemeir said. "He'll be a legitimate candidate next year after putting up unbelievable numbers and leading us to our first winning season in 14 years."
Strasemeir has the statistics to support the hyperbole. McCoy already has set a record for Navy quarterbacks by rushing for 1,181 yards, and, in his most recent start against Georgia Tech, eclipsed the school touchdown rushing mark (15) of 1960 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Bellino.
When the pending Heisman campaign is mentioned to McCoy, a Georgia native, he laughs softly and says, "Heisman? I haven't thought about it. We still have a lot of important business this year."
McCoy did not have to elaborate. He was, of course, referring to tomorrow's game against Army, with the Commander in Chief's Trophy and an Independence Bowl bid looming for the winner.
In McCoy's case, this high noon showdown with Navy's rival is highly personal. His outstanding sophomore season ended on an exceedingly bitter note last December.
With Navy leading 13-7 and more than eight minutes remaining, first-year coach Charlie Weatherbie gambled on McCoy scoring from inside the Army 1 on fourth down rather than entrust a freshman kicker with a short field-goal attempt. He anticipated the Cadets would employ an 11-man front to keep the Midshipmen from rushing the final foot.
"All we had to do was throw the ball in the air," Weatherbie said in retrospect. "Someone would have caught it."
But McCoy, spotting slot back Cory Schemm wide-open in the end zone, threw a knuckleball that fell short of Schemm's desperate dive.
Recalling the moment, McCoy insists he has not allowed the play to haunt him or, in any way, destroy his confidence.
"That was one play in the game," he said. "One play doesn't decide a game. Sure, that was a downer for me. But Army still had to march 99 yards, and they made a big play on fourth-and-24. You don't get plays like that from your playbook.
"How could you assume Army would hold the ball for over eight minutes? We had a lot of unfortunate things happen. But I didn't get discouraged by that one play. I used it more to motivate me this year."
Reflecting on how much he has accomplished the past two years, it is hard to believe that, as a plebe, McCoy was restricted to playing junior varsity defensive back.
He enjoyed his only fling at quarterback when then-coach George Chaump assigned him to run the scout team, imitating the wishbone offense employed by academy rivals Air Force and Army.
Had Chaump remained, McCoy's best chance as a sophomore would have been vying for a spot as a running back. But Chaump was fired after a third straight loss to Army, and the hiring of Weatherbie not only drastically changed Navy's football history, but gave McCoy the opportunity to display his unusual ability.
"You never know the future," McCoy said. "I was truly blessed."
Looking for someone to run of- fensive coordinator Paul Johnson's intricate, triple-option offense, Weatherbie chose McCoy to compete with junior Ben Fay for the job in spring drills.
McCoy was selected to start the 1995 opener against Southern Methodist and gained instant celebrity by setting a school record for total yards (398), including 273 rushing in a stunning 33-2 victory.
"I knew it couldn't be all that easy," McCoy said, recalling his spectacular varsity debut with a laugh. "But after not playing quarterback for two years, that game gave me a lot of confidence that I could do the job on a Division I level."
Said Weatherbie: "I don't think there were any real doubts that he would play well because our offensive system is made for him.
"He's done some great things, but he just keeps on improving, especially with his passing."
Asked what makes McCoy special, Weatherbie said, "He does a great job making people miss and breaking tackles. He possesses that sixth sense most great backs have. He has that peripheral vision that helps him avoid trouble."
McCoy can't explain his elusive qualities. He sounded much like basketball magician Earl Monroe when he said, "I don't know what I'm going to do, so how could the defense possibly know?
"But I've always loved offense, having the ball in my hands, running and dodging. It's exciting for me. I played mostly quarterback in high school. Actually, my junior year, I threw for 1,200 yards and rushed for about 200. But it's usually the other way around."
There were doubts last season whether McCoy could develop into a consistent passer. When Navy had to move the ball in a hurry, Weatherbie usually turned to Fay.
But McCoy believes the fact that he completed only 43 percent of his passes and threw more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four) was more physical than mechanical.
"Not having really thrown the ball in competition for two years, my arm felt shot," he said. "I had trouble passing the ball 10 yards without throwing it in the dirt. My arm muscles just weren't developed.
"This year, my arm is much stronger," said McCoy, who added 12 pounds to his now compact 5-10, 191-pound frame.
"Plus, knowing the system and reading defenses better has made me much more confident passing the ball and staying in the pocket."
McCoy may not win the Heisman next year, but he is already the favorite son of Morris, Ga. (pop. 2,000), a speck on the map in the southwestern part of the state.
"There is only one general store and stop light in town," said McCoy, who knows most of its inhabitants. "Randolph, where I went to high school, almost looked like a metropolis compared to Morris.
"When I go back now, I give speeches to the high school kids. The people back home are glad to see me doing well."
And if McCoy leads Navy to a victory over Army, the whole town of Morris might journey to Shreveport, La., to support him in the Independence Bowl.
Pub Date: 12/06/96