A center is the most anonymous player in football, and Navy's Ray Fritsch wants to keep it that way.
Fritsch has escaped anonymity on two occasions, both of which he has tried unsuccessfully to forget.
In his final high school game, Fritsch made a bad snap on a punt from his own three-yard line. The punter managed to pick the ball up, but he kicked it only to the 15.
"They went right in to score and went ahead, 17-14, with five or six minutes to go," Fritsch recalled."Fortunately, we put together an 80 yard drive and pulled out the game. Yeah, I was thankful. Also, I haven't snapped for punts since."
A year ago, Navy was beaten by Rutgers in its opener and next faced a scorned Connecticut team. Fritsch, spurred by a sports writer's somewhatdeprecating questions, "guaranteed" a victory over the Uconns.
Connecticut, duly fired up by the press clippings, held a 3-0 halftime lead before Navy pulled out a 21-3 decision. During the intermission discussion, it was suggested that future success might be better attained if Fritsch kept his mouth shut.
So Fritsch has learned to rival George Allen for caution during press interviews, with one exception. While Allen silently digests a question, Fritsch prefaces each answer with this question: "Now how do I want that to come out in the paper?"
As a mathematician majoring in operations analysis, Fritsch is certainly able to make things come out the way he wants them. He is also a capable man on the football field, and it was a bit of self-analysis that led him to seek the unglamorous role of center.
"I started as a tackle," Fritsch said, and by the time I got to ninth grade my brother was a senior. He had made all-state honorable mention as a center and I figured it might be a good way for me to do it, too.
"It didn't really work out that way, but my brother helped me a lot. He gave me the same technique I have today - same snapping stance, same steps."
Although opportunities are limited for heroism, the 6-foot-2, 217-pound Fritsch wonders whether some day he might grab that fumble in midair and ramble for the winning score.
"Everybody kind of thinks that," Fritsch said. "Unfortunately, you wake up. I sometimes wish they had a center-eligible play to spice things up, but I really have no aspirations to carry the ball.
"My satisfaction from football comes in knowing I did my best, putting out 100 per cent. Winning does help, but you can still get self-satisfaction from your own performance.
"Playing center puts me in good position on every play. I'm blocking toward the play and I'm involved directly in every play. Each middle guard has his own style, moves and steps. I study films of them pretty thoroughly, sometimes for 20 hours the week before a game."
Fritsch isn't sure his role is overlooked by the fans, now that television often focuses on line play.
"People watch that - you'd be surprised." Fritsch said "Offensive linemen are starting to get more notoriety. Alex Karras and Frank Gifford, as knowledgeable as they are about the game have helped a lot. People know you're out there now."
Fritsch, a senior, has been a vital cog in Navy's offensive line for the past two seasons.
Coach George Welsh said, "I expect him to have a real good year. He has quickness, good feet, good technique. He's intelligent. And he has emerged right now as a leader, something he hadn't done before."
"I try to get the guys up," Fritsch said. "I think I lead by example. I'm not a rah-rah type. I tend to get a bit excited when I play, and I hope I get the rest of the guys excited, too.
"Everybody's real high right now. There's no cocky spirit. We're confident, but we know we've yet to be put to the full test."
The talk in the Navy locker room inevitably drifts to Michigan, the third opponent on Sept. 24, a team that handed the Mids their worst defeat in history a year ago, 70-14.
"We realize Michigan is still three games off," Fritsch said. "The most important thing is getting off right in the first couple. The season is determined greatly by the start."
Navy's first two opponents are Citadel and Connecticut. This year Fritsch is offering no guarantees.