Navy's football team, preceded by mascot Bill XX, removed one of the big butts from its season today by breaking through a paper posted erected for the annual prepractice photo day.
A year ago, a heavier display defeated a similar effort and the season was two-thirds over before the Mids could overcome their embarrassment. It took three straight victories at the end for a 4-7 record.
Navy was shuffling players' position in wholesale lots at midseason, but that doesn't figure to be necessary this time. With 31 lettermen around, coach George Welsh sees problems in just a few areas when the practice starts in two-a-day seriousness on Monday - tight end, middle guard, kickoffs and punts, and depth in the line.
"This should be the best offensive team we've had," said Welsh, entering his fifth season as Navy's head coach. "We should move the ball against anybody, I like our chances most Saturdays."
The key to Navy's attack capabilities rests in the hands of junior quarterback Bob Leszczynski, an undistinguished practice performer who earned a starting berth in the seventh game last season and proved a game breaker, engineering those last three victories as well as a near-upset of Notre Dame.
"We kept looking at this guy and wondering if he was good enough," Welsh reminisced, "it turned out he was. It make you wonder about the observation of the coaching staff."
Leszczynski, after pitching .531 (34 competions in 158 attempts), turned his attention to baseball, where he batted .000 as a part-time infielder. If unrewarding statistically, it beat the drudgery of spring football practice.
"I had a good time, learned a lot about baseball and met a lot of new people," Leszczynzki said. "I don't think I got hurt by missing spring football. That's for people the coaches don't know much about. When you're No. 1 you can't psych yourself up in the spring. "You're just out there hitting your own guys with no game to look forward to."
While the absent Leszczynski retained his No. 1 status, another member of Navy's "ski" team backfield, a senior John Kurowski, was shifted from quarterback, where he began last season as No. 1 to wingback, the pass receiving-blocking assignment vacated by the Mids' top receiver, Dave King. Kurowski and junior Bob Wilson are rated "neck and neck" by Welsh.
"Kurowski is faster than ever," Welsh said, "and I have high hopes for him. He caught weil in the spring. Catching the ball is not a problem for a quarterback."
Sophomore fullback Larry Klawinski and senior tailback Joe Gattuso, converted from wingback in midseason 1976, complete the backfield.
"We have only 19 practice days before we play The Citadel (Sept. 10)," Welsh said, "but we're a lot better off than last year. We don't have to hold spring practice again in the fall and do a lot of experimenting the way we did then. We're always trying to get the best athletes in the game, so we often change positions around, but we've got fewer this year than before and that will help us."
Besides Kurowski, notable shifts sent senior Ed Reid from defensive back to defensive end, and sophomore Charlie Meyers from defensive back to middle guard, the spot filled so capable by graduated Jeff Sapp.
"Sapp was great," Welsh said. "I don't expect Meyers or (Alvin) Miller to be that good, but they have to be good. Middle guard is a big position in our defense.
"And we've got to have a tight end. (Carl) Hendershot caught very well in the spring, but (Richard) Cellon was hurt most of the time. We plan to try three plebes there, too."
Bob Tata, an accurate placekicker, will attempt field goals and extra points, but Welsh is searching for someone to kick off deep. "We just can't afford to let the opposition start at the 40 again." Welsh also hopes punter Art Ohanian can add to his hang time and avert long-distance returns that hurt last year.
Welsh expects Navy to throw about one-third of the time and claims to have "improved our passing game. We've added some things, we're more sophisticated. We have more pass patterns and difference combinations, to take advantage of Leszczynski."
Split end Phil McConkey went under 46 in today's sprints and is expected to give the Mids a long-distance threat. But there's no doubt Navy would like to have King, the man who grabbed 10 passes against Notre Dame alone.
King was here earlier this week, seeking reinstatement after withdrawing in the spring. But he failed to take his final exam and, told he would have to repeat his entire plebe year, without playing this fall, he indicated he would resume its initial plan to transfer to Indiana.
"King was good for us," Leszczynski said. "But Wilson and Kurowski should be able to do the job. We'll find out."