WEST POINT, N.Y. -- The quarterback can remember his first days on this campus on the banks of the Hudson River. He had come to West Point because he wanted to play Division I-A football and because this was the only I-A team that wanted him.
And he hated it. Hated the hazing. Hated getting the buzz cut. Hated standing at attention in shorts, a T-shirt and black socks while upperclassmen screamed at him.
"It was the absolute worst year of my life," Ronnie McAda says now, as he prepares for another football practice. "Your whole vocabulary ceases. Everything is 'Yes, sir. No, sir. No excuse, sir.' And if you didn't respond like that, they'd yell at you for a very long time. It was humiliating."
It was his welcoming embrace at the United States Military Academy.
He called home. He wanted to go home.
Instead, he stuck it out. "I'd never quit at anything," he said. "I wasn't going to quit here."
And because he stuck it out, Army will take one of its best football teams in decades into Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia tomorrow to take on Navy in the annual season-ending classic.
This time, there is more on the line than just beating Navy. This time, a victory will give Army a school-record 10 wins, the Commander in Chief's Trophy for the first time in eight years and a bowl bid for the first time since 1988. A victory over Navy would be the fifth straight for Army and a Corps record dating to 1890. Navy has accomplished the feat twice, the most recent from 1959-63.
For Army, a major reason for all this is McAda. He is a tall Texan, 6 feet 3 and 202 pounds and not your average wishbone quarterback. He is nothing like Navy's 5-10, 191-pound Chris McCoy, who has rushed 251 times for 1,181 yards and 15 touchdowns and completed 43 passes for 652 yards and five touchdowns.
McAda has carried 84 times for 325 yards and three touchdowns and completed 50 passes for five touchdowns.
An Army senior who turns 23 today, McAda prefers to spread the work around. Ten other Army backs have more than 100 yards rushing, four of them have had 100-yard rushing games and seven of them have scored.
"Ronnie's greatest strength is his tremendous confidence that no matter what the situation, he'll find a way to get the job done," said Army coach Bob Sutton. "He's a player's player. He believes in himself, doesn't get flustered and can bounce back. He always seems to make big plays in big games."
That hasn't been lost on roommate and offensive tackle Tim Booth. He recalled McAda's fourth-and-24 pass that kept last year's last-minute scoring drive alive to earn a 14-13 victory over Navy.
And he recalled the game against Louisville in 1994, the year a sophomore named McAda was forced to the forefront when the team's top two quarterbacks suffered season-ending injuries in the first two games of the season.
"Ronnie passed for the winning touchdown in the closing minutes of that game," said Booth, recalling McAda's third game as a starter. "That was something we didn't normally do in the wishbone. We ended up winning the game by passing the ball. We knew he was a good quarterback, but then we knew he could make the big play when he had to."
Sutton said McAda is the best option quarterback Army has ever had. McAda, who has heard all the compliments before, still can't believe anyone, not even his coach, would say such a thing.
"I don't have the speed that some guys have," McAda said. "I'm not as good a runner as some others and I'm not good at breaking tackles.
"Basically, there are only two things that make me good. One is that I read the option really well. I can't tell you how exactly. I just know when to pitch and when to pull. Secondly, I feel that I can drop back and throw the ball if we need to. I have enough confidence in my passing ability to be able to step up in the pocket with pressure coming in.
"But to say that I'm the best wishbone quarterback that West Point has ever had, I have to disagree with that."
You can almost hear him snapping out the cadence, 'No, sir!" But he can't wipe out the record book. With McAda directing the option, Army leads the nation in rushing yards, averaging 347.2 per game. And for the second straight year the team has 'D established a single-season record for total offense. This year's 4,498 yards surpass the 4,427 gained a year ago.
On the way to those numbers, McAda has become the first Army quarterback to record 2,000 career passing yards and 1,500 career rushing yards.
All this from the teen-ager who four years ago just wanted to go home. Next spring, this same young man will graduate with a degree in systems engineering, be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and, he hopes, be assigned to field artillery.
"Coming to Army is the best thing that's ever happened to me," McAda said. "I've taken on responsibilities here that I never did before. I've learned to rely on myself and my teammates and I've learned that in order to make it in life, you have to deal with the good and the bad and that you can never give up."
Army (9-1) vs. Navy (8-2)
Site: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia
Time: Saturday, noon
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WITH (1230 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)
Line: Navy by 2
At stake: Independence Bowl berth vs. Auburn
Last meeting: Army won, 14-13
Pub Date: 12/06/96