Navy inside linebacker Ross Pospisil began to show his strength of character and compassion as a high school sophomore in Temple, Texas, when he went out of his way to befriend a group of Hispanics who seemed isolated in the school's lunchroom.
"Ross just didn't like seeing that group of young people separated from everyone else," said Scott Pospisil, Ross' father. "He took his lunch tray and started to sit with them, just to get to know them. They didn't like it at first, but then they saw his heart. One day, those kids called him up and asked him to join them at a pool hall where they hung out.
"Ross has always tried to build bridges between people."
Today, Navy football fans will see whether Pospisil's character will help make him what the Navy coaches hope will be a strong leader on the football field.
Pospisil, a 6-foot, 223-pound sophomore whose name is pronounced POS-pi-sill, will make his first start for Navy's young defense today against Ball State. He's claiming the position formerly manned by junior Clint Sovie, the team's defensive signal caller, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury at Rutgers last week that required surgery.
"I never expected this opportunity to come so fast and I'm very sorry about Clint," Pospisil said. "He's a great player and he's been helping me get more comfortable on the field with my reads.
"Playing at this level is so much different. I wasn't much of a thinker on the field in high school. I just played. But here you've got to think so much. In my position it's about making the calls on defense, then making the read on the play and then getting the job done.
"I've seen it where a player thinks too much and plays slow. Or where I'm all fired up, but running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I've got to get to the point where I'm going full-out and thinking at the same time."
Defensive coordinator Buddy Green said the speed will come with experience.
"Ross' effort Friday [when he came in off the bench when Sovie was injured] was good," Green said. "He tried hard to get the job done. We weren't satisfied with anyone. He made mistakes. But he ran hard to the ball."
Pospisil, 19, has always seemed willing to try hard. In high school, he joined a teen involvement program in which he went into inner-city elementary schools to work with young children.
And when his Temple High football team was going 0-10 his senior year, it was Pospisil who provided the calm in the huddle and helped his teammates keep trying when they felt like giving up.
"He's always stuck up for the underdog," said his father, the pastor at the First Baptist Church in Boerne, Texas, about 10 minutes northwest of San Antonio. "He's always shown a combination of toughness and kindness in his life. During his plebe summer, there was a lot of physical stuff the plebes had to do and during one long run, when they were all dead tired, one plebe couldn't make it up the final hill. Ross picked him up and carried him up the hill on his back so he could finish with his company."
What finally crystallized Pospisil's decision to come to Navy, the linebacker said after practice this week, was the attack on the Twin Towers in New York.
"Funny," he said. "Today is 9/11. When that happened, I felt if there was a [military] draft, I'd answer. I thought God was leading me here."
In Texas, his mother, Linda, recalled that when Sept. 11 occurred, her son started trying to figure out "how he could make an impact" for his country.
"He considered enlisting after high school," she said. "But he talked to us and decided to apply to the Naval Academy before the football coaches were even aware of him."
Scott Pospisil said his son isn't perfect but is still an amazing young man.
"When he told us this spring he thinks he wants to be a ground commander in the Marines, that's when his decision to go to Navy really started to sink in and I started getting more sobered by it," he said. "That's a career in big-time danger, but he really is committed. I think there are a lot of good, young men like my son, that have more courage than we really know. They believe duty to country is more important than their own safety."
Today against Ball State it won't be a matter of life and death. But without Sovie and free safety Jeff Deliz (right leg surgery), who has also been lost for the season and will be replaced by freshman Wyatt Middleton, Navy's defense has a lot to overcome.
"We're losing two critical parts of our defense and both were leaders," said Green, the defensive coordinator. "But it's time for the next guys to step in. Wyatt is probably going to start based on how well he has done at practice and in last Friday's game.
"Ross has earned our respect. ... I had a hard time pronouncing his name. But during a preseason scrimmage [he did so well], he went from me calling him '[No.] 51' to 'Poppy' to 'Ross.' Period."
Pospisil, laughing, said he has been called everything including Popsicle and Pasta Shell.
"My whole life has been like that," he said.
And then, when asked how he feels about today's game, the future Marine spoke bravely.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge," he said. "I've been prepared phenomenally well."
Matchup -- Ball State (1-1) @Navy (1-1)
Time -- 5 p.m.
Site -- Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
TV -- CSTV
Radio -- 1090 AM
Line -- Navy by 7
Series -- Ball State leads 1-0
Navy offense vs. Ball State defense -- Part of the Navy attack will come from the sidelines, where the academy has sold a record 22,634 season tickets, breaking last year's record 20,206. With travel to road games limited for midshipmen this season, the home games will become their primary outlet for supporting their team. What those fans will see today is QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada attempting to generate some urgency among his offensive unit against a Ball State defense, led by senior WLB Bryant Haines' 21 tackles in two games, that has been stingy to opposing offenses. Ball State has allowed an average of 146.5 yards rushing and will hope to hold on to that average against Navy, which has produced 307.5 yards per game on the ground. It might be a good time for Kaheaku-Enhada to try his passing arm again, despite three interceptions last week. Ball State has been more generous there, allowing an average of 252 yards per game.
Navy defense vs. Ball State offense -- Navy's defense will face a challenge this week. Not as big, perhaps, as the one it was up against a week ago at No. 15 Rutgers, but big nonetheless. With two experienced starters ILB Clint Sovie (ankle surgery) and FS Jeff Deliz (leg surgery) out for the season, the Mids will look to sophomore Ross Pospisil, a sophomore who will be starting his first game, and Wyatt Middleton, a freshman, to take advantage of their new opportunity. Ball State's offense is anchored by sophomore Nate Davis, who last week passed for 306 yards and four touchdowns. Among his best receivers are Dante Love, a 5-foot-10 junior, and Darius Hill, a 6-6 junior. Navy's secondary will be challenged to find anyone over 6 feet to meet the challenge. "I'm sure they're going to try and get him the ball against our smaller DBs. I know I would," Navy coach Paul Johnson said.