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Navy slotback Lane stays in stride

Last week, Navy senior slotback Tony Lane took a pitchout from quarterback Craig Candeto, ran through a would-be tackler, galloped down the left sideline to complete a 32-yard touchdown, flipped the ball to an official and jogged off the field as if practice was in session.

Last month, Navy's single-season record-holder for kickoff return yardage found out that a fumbling problem from a year ago had cost him his special teams job. Upon hearing the news, Lane barely showed a reaction.

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A reporter recently reminded Lane he was on pace to shatter Navy's single-season record for yards per carry average, and the economics major from Wrens, Ga., nodded without changing his expression, then dished out credit to his blockers and the offensive scheme that creates big-play chances he must not waste.

There are even-tempered players in Annapolis, and then there is Tony Lane.

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"Nothing much bothers Tony. If it does, he hides it really well," Navy coach Paul Johnson said. "I never see him get excited. He might be as even-keel as anybody I've ever been around. He's got a pretty good center."

Said junior center August Roitsch: "Tony is just a quiet, serious guy who is going to get things done. You know he's going to get a few yards on each play, and when we block well, he makes big things happen. A quiet player, but definitely a team leader."

In Navy's triple-option, spread offense, which leans heavily on the inside running ability of the quarterback and fullback and is designed to deliver the ball to slotbacks on the perimeter, no one rips off yardage with Lane's consistency.

Through three games, he is averaging a whopping 16.3 yards on 11 carries with two touchdowns. Lane also has 37 yards receiving on two receptions.

For his career, Lane is heading for record territory, having averaged 7.9 yards per carry on 107 rushing attempts. The current mark of 5.7 yards per carry held by Bob Craig (1952-1954) is in serious jeopardy. He also has averaged 17.7 yards on 25 pass receptions.

All of which Lane downplays with a shrug.

"For slotbacks in our offense, you get the ball on the perimeter and have the chance to go one-on-one with a safety a lot. Sometimes, there's no [defender] there when you get the pitch," Lane said. "I don't have to worry about making too many people miss. I just run in the open field, run free."

Lane, who played quarterback at Jefferson County (Ga.) High School, prides himself on squeezing the most out of his ability. He always could cut smoothly without losing speed, but isn't known for twisting defenders around with jaw-dropping moves or pulling away from them. Yet, at 5 feet 9, 199 pounds, with excellent leg strength resulting from weight-room dedication, Lane can break tackles with surprising ease.

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"Tony is real sneaky. He's not real fast and he doesn't have a lot of moves, but he seems to wade through a lot of tackles. A north-south guy," Johnson said. "I don't know that he can be a straight-up tailback or receiver, but he does 'em all. He kind of a jack of a lot of trades."

Johnson subtracted one task from Lane's job description this year by relieving him of kickoff return duty.

Two years ago, Lane set a Navy record with 898 kickoff return yards, which included a career-high, 67-yard play the first time he ever touched the ball against Temple. He averaged a respectable 22 yards on 22 returns last fall but had some fumbling lapses in that role.

Lane took the news with his typical, stoic demeanor. Freshman slotback Brian Hampton and senior fullback Kyle Eckel return kickoffs this season.

"I didn't really expect it, but I'm not really disappointed with it. If somebody can do it better, I want them to be on the field. I'm devoting the extra time to learning everything I can learn about this offense," Lane said.

"No position is in concrete. Nothing is permanent. As long as you do your job and take care of your assignment and give good effort, you'll have a job."

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Next for Navy

Matchup: Navy (2-1) vs. Rutgers (2-1)

Site: Rutgers Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: CN8/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Rutgers by 1


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