Last year, the Navy football team set what has to be a college record for the longest spring practice. "We were in the fifth game of the fall season before it ended." Coach George Welsh said today with a laugh.

Welsh has reason to be jovial. This year's spring practice will bne ending as scheduled Saturday with the annual Blue-Gold game. In the fall, he expects the Midshipmen to act like a full-fledged football team from the opening kickoff of the first game.

"There is no comparison between the teams at the same point," said Weish. "Right now, we are a so nuch better squad. We have people who have experience, who can win games. We're settled more into positions.

"Right now, we're a pretty good football team. We still bave room for improvement and I'm not saying we're great. But I'm encouraged by what I've seen out here this spring."

Navy salvaged what could have been a disastrous season last year by winning its final three games. Sixteen starters, including nine on defense, return from that 4.7 outfit and Welsh says he has sensed "an excitement" among his players about next season.

He'd like to get excited, too, but then he looks at a schedule that includes Notre Dame, Michigan and Pitt and at the lack of depth on boih of his units. And he sees his squad step on the scales and not move the weights as high as he'd like.

"We aren't very big." said Welsh. "We're playing with a 209 pound middle guard and a 198-pound linebacker. We can use some more size."

At least the Midshipmen are stronger. They've joined the growing list of converts to weight training and now Welsh can boast of a team that is "maybe 10 per cent stronger" on the average than last year.

With regular quarterback Bob Leszczynski, the late-season sensation of 1976, playing baseball, Welsh has had a chance to develop sophomores Randy Farley and Bob Powers to a point where he feels "we're stronger at that position than any time since I came here." And he's seen progress at split end, where Phil McConkey and Sandy Jones have solidified what he thought could be a troublesome spot.

Still, Welsh has not yet decided to start the dream-name backfield of Leszcynski, running backs Joe Gattuso and Larry Klawinski. So far, Herb Wilson hjas kept Kurowski, a converted quarterback, from claimong the wingback spot.

"I remember last year at this time, one of our players told me on the practice field, "I don't know what to expect' about next season," said Welsh. "that kind of shakes you up. I don't think we have those problems any more. We better know what to ecpect."

Then there is the matter of the incoming freshman class, which could be the best Welsh has recruited. But he won't know for sure until they show up in the summer.

"if we get who we think we will, we can add to our depth and our size," he said. "That's the kind of help we need."

His main concern now is keeping enough offensive linemen healthy for Saturday's game. Five members of the first two units are injured and there will be barely enough bodies to man the trenches.

"If it gets worse," Welsh said with a twinkle in his eye, "maybe we'll call the whole thing off."