George Welsh, one of the nicer guys in sports, has been a trifle testy during Navy's football practices, an indication that unusual things are happening on the Severn. To be sure, indications are that this is a good Navy team, possibly the best since 1963.
"I feel pretty good about this team," Welsh said. "It should be the best offensive team we've had (this is his fifth season). I don't think we'll be as good on defense as in 1975 (a 7-4 season), because we aren't as quick. We're not in the (Chet) Moeller-(Andy) Bushak class.
"We have more speed on offense, though. Our split end (Phil McConkey) has run under 4.6, which we haven't had before. Our team overall doesn't mean we're going to win a lot. We don't have a lot of depth and with some injuries in the offensive line we could be hurting."
An injury to quarterback Bob Leszezynski could result in disaster, too. Leszezynski became the No. 1 man in the seventh game of 1976, completed 84 of 158 passes and turned an abominable season into a respectable 4-7 campaign that included a 38-10 rout of Army.
That victory lifted the Mids' record against the Cadets to 35-36-6 (Welsh is 4-0) and kept the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy in Annapolis for a fourth straight season.
This fall Navy is looking beyond mere service-school supremacy. With 31 lettermen, the Mids could be the best team in the East. To earn that title, Navy must defeat Pittsburgh Oct. 15 in one of five journeys away from home turf. The others are no travel bargains, either: Michigan, Duke, Notre and Army.
The six home games, however, constitute the most favorable schedule in four decades and it is not accident.
"There is a home-field advantage and we need all the advantage we can get," said athletic director Bo Copedge. "We want to fill our home stadium (capacity is 28,000) if we can.
"This is an entertainment mecca here, with the pros and theaters and the boating opportunities. With the investment you make in a boat, you feel guilty if you don't use it every chance you get. We know that.
"I've gotten blasts with two home games, and three and four and five. Now they say six is too many. Well, if we win them and the place is filled, maybe it will be a success. We'll see."
"I like six home games," said Welsh, "but last year we played five and it wasn't much help (Navy was 1-4 at Annapolis)."
While Coppedge worries about filling seats and Welsh ponders the won-lost prospects, a problem of a different sort besets announcer Tony Roberts.
Navy's offensive backfield has been labeled the "Ski" team, because it figures to include Leszczynski, wing-black John Kurowski, fullback Larry Klawinski and tailback Joe Gattuso. How does one describe a Leszczynski to Klawinski handoff?
"That's nothing," countered Roberts. "When you've broadcast basketball for East Chicago Washington High, you're ready for anything. They started three Serbs, a Croatian and a Spaniard named Plasencia. I survived that, so I can survive anything."
Navy figures to start letterman at all but three positions this year, quite a change from the wholesale experimentation that characterized the 1976 campaign.
The men carrying the heaviest load are tight end Carl Hendershot, a 6-foot-3 sophomore trying to fill Kevin Sullivan's big shoes; Ed Reid, a senior defensive end replacing Pete Caulk, and Alvin Miller and Charlie Meyers, candidates for the middle-guard post vacated by All-East Jeff Sapp.
If the rest seem set, they are not content. The word is out: plebes and others are capable of lifting starting berths from anyone.
"This is a mighty enthusiastic group," said Red Romo, serving his 22nd season as Navy's trainer. "They came back in great shape and they think they can beat anybody. Wouldn't it be nice if they could?"