Soon after he graduates Wednesday from the United States Naval Academy, Jeff Sapp will climb into his silver Granada, the one with the license plate "JEFFREY," and start driving toward his home in Colorado Springs.
"When I wheel out of here," he said today, "I'd like to think not so much that I'll remember the academy but that the academy will remember Jeff Sapp for a long time."
It will, in different ways. His coaches will remember him as the first black football captain and first black All-America football player in the academy's history. Academy officials will remember him even more, Sapp believes, for being what he calls "an everyday, regular pioneer."
Sapp is not the first black to graduate from the Naval Academy. But he probably is the most publicized and he easily is the most honored athletically.
He has tried to use his fame to bring about subtle changes in the academy's attitude toward blacks. And he believes that the mere fact that someone like him, a self-described average student with no pretentions of academic immortality, can survive four years at the academy should convince other blacks that it's not a bad place for them either.
"This is how it used to be," explained Sapp in his nonstop fashion of talking. "Blacks who were brains could get into here or the Ivy Leagues. They'd say, 'Why here?' and go to the Ivies.
"The rest of us, the ones without brains, we saw the academy and we heard that it wasn't a good place for blacks. You had a hard time academically, it wasn't always that friendly and then you had that military obligation.
"Well, I say that doesn't have to be so. You don't have to be a brain to make it here. I proved that. And I found that this place is changing. Oh, it's slow and there are things I'd like to see different,but there is progress.
"I'll tell you this: I'm walking out of here with $70,000 worth fo education. Free. No one can hold me down now. If I apply for a job and they don't want me, fine. I've got the background now to go down the street and make it somewhere else.
"This place has prestige. Americans admire someone who graduates from the Naval Aacdemy. And I've got a foundation that will last me the rest of my life. I can build from this point, because I made my mark here mentally, not just athletically."
Sapp smiled. "Don't make me out," he said, "as some wild-eyed radical. I'm a people person. I see something wrong and I think it should be changed, that all. I mean, some things are dumb as hell, so why put up with them.??
It was one of those gorgeous late-springs days with the sun glistening off the Severn River and the grounds of the Naval Academy alive with the sounds of birds and the giggling of school-age children.
Jeff Sapp strolled down one of the long, tree-lined walkways and sat on a concrete bench. The muscles in his bulging chest rippled under this white uniform as he talked of the last four years and how they had affected his life.
Sapp has one of those infectious personalities that can adapt to any situation. Friends at the academy say they have never seen Sapp uncomfortable with anyone, be it the academy superintendent or a rooter at a gathering of football boosters.
For the next few months, he is going to recruit for the Navy. It seems a perfect position for him. Sapp appears capable of luring a bee away from honey if he wanted to.
"I love to talk," he said."I've found that's the best way to find things out. You get people going and they are going to fill you in on things you didn't know before. I just like to live life and be happy about it."
Sapp has a right to be sad if he wants. He has the desire and skill to become a marvelous pro football player, even with a five-year military obligation standing in the way. But he never grew larger than a solid 200 pounds, much too small for an aspiring defensive lineman.
Although he'd like a chance somewhere along the line to try out for a pro team, he's passed the state of brooding about his fate.
"If I was 40 pounds bigger, then I'd be cursing about having to wait five years," he said. "But since it would be foolish for me to think I could make the pros, I don't worry about it. The curiosity will always be there, but now I have to depend on my mind, not my body, to make it from here on out."
So football fans most likely have seen the last of Sapp outsmarting 240-pound offensive lineman with the quickness and anticipation that characterized his middle-guard play.
His coach, George Welsh, says that without question he was the finest middle guard in college football last year. Considering that Sapp came to Navy expecting to wrestle, not play football, his performance is even more remarkable.
Sapp's goal coming out of high school in Colorado was to become a world-class wrestler, capable of earning a gold medal at the Olympics. But a standout showing in a summer high school all-star game rekindled his enthusiasm for football (he had been all-state in three sports: football, track and wrestling and he wound up never wrestling a bout at Navy.
"It's unbelieveable how my life has changed since I left home," he said. "When I came out of high school, I was going to Arizona State to wrestle, take psychology, sociology and music and become an athletic star."
But Sapp's father, who spent 22 years in the Army, had other plans. He had checked out the military academies and decided that his son belonged to Navy. Only after a series of heated discussions did Sapp agree to his father's wishes.
Three times after reaching Annapolis, Sapp decided to leave. The third time, his father had to fly in to talk him out of it.
"I never had a technical background in high school," Sapp recalled. "I wasn't prepared for the courses at Navy. Here I was struggling with engineering and I could have been some place else taking courses I liked.
"But he told me you can eat an elephant if you want by taking one bit at a time. He told me that he was black and that he had made it. Just think what I could do with a degree from the Naval Academy. So I stayed."
Academics proved no more troublesome than his fear of facing those monster offensive guards every fall Saturday afternoon and realizing those guys probably cat their young for breakfast. If I wasn't perfect in what I did, they'd eat me alive.
"I got where I'd talk to my opponents and smile at them. In one Notre Dame game, I even blew one guy a kiss. Hey, I'm a hot dog. I admit it."
There were also serious times. The academy superintendent consulted him on how to make the school more appealing for blacks. He played drums in a small musical combo. As football cocaptain, he was responsible for settling internal problems "and being called on the carpet when we didn't."
Prior to the graduation ceremonies, Jeff Sapp will be given the Thompson Trophy, one of the academy's two most prestigious athelic award. It goes to the senior whom the academy feels has done the most "for promotion of athetics at the Naval Academy."
Another black, sprinter Daryl Anderson, will receive the Naval Academy Athletic Association Sword, the other major award. It will be the first time blacks have won both awards in the same year.
"I'm not 1000 per cent sold on this place," said Sapp. "When I leave, I won't remember much but the Army-Navy game and the fact that I graduated.
"But if just one black child sees what I've done and wants to follow me here, then I'm glad things worked out as they did. It might sound corny, but I mean it. I've tried to leave my mark and now it's on to other things."