When the Navy defense takes the field in Durham, N.C., Saturday it will focus on one target: Duke quarterback Mike Dunn. The Midshipmen know if they stop Dunn, they stop the Blue Devils. Dunn will be under constant pressure all afternoon.
But pressure is nothing new for Dunn, Duke's first black quarterback, who was intensely recruited by Woody Hayes and Ohio State.
"It's been rough at times, I guess, but I don't have any real regrets about the road I choose," Dunn says. Soft-spoken, but rarely silent, he is the unquestioned leader of coach Mike McGee's team. His teammates look up to him on and off the field. "Choosing Duke was one of the best decisions I made in my entire life."
Dunn almost didn't choose Duke. As a senior all-American at Bethel High School in Hampton, Va., he came to Hayes' attention. The Man wanted him.
"During the state championship game this plane kept flying over the stadium," Dunn recalls. "After the game, one of the Ohio State assistants who was there came over and told me that was coach Hayes in the plane and that he wanted to visit with me in a week.
"The next week at school they told me Woody Hayes was there to see me. I couldn't believe it. We sat in one of the conference rooms and talked for four hours.
"If I hadn't read things or seen him on TV I would've thought he was the nicest man in the whole world. That night he came over and spent the evening with my family. He told us all his stories about General Patton and his military philosophy of how to run a football team."
Like any impressionable 17-year-old Dunn was impressed, in fact almost overwhelmed. He visited the Ohio State campus and liked it. But something in the back of his mind told him this wasn't for him.
"I thought about the whole thing and what I was getting into for the next four years," he said. "They talked an awful lot of football at Ohio State. I mean I'd always dreamed of being recruited by a major football power and here it was, happening.
"But I wanted to go to a place where football wasn't everything, where I would feel I was going to have an alternative if football didn't work out. Here, I'm really into my football and I try to live up to my football expectations. But I try to live up to my life's expectations, too."
In football, Dunn has more than lived up to expectations. He was the ACC's total offense leader last year, passing for more than 1,000 yards on a 55 per cent completion percentage and rushing for 751 yards. At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, he makes an elusive target and often seems to run through people because he is so quick in making his fakes.
"Our problem with Duke is physical matchups and that starts with Dunn," Navy coach George Welsh said of the Blue Devil signal-caller, "you have to contain him and that is extremely difficult because he does everything so well. If you don't stop him on the option. Duke will run all over you."
Dunn hasn't always been opposition's No.1 headache. As a freshman he found himself trying to unseat seniors Hal Spears and Bob Corbett, roommates and good friends.
"There were times when we didn't do a lot of talking," Dunn admitted. "Coach McGee tried to keep the pressure off me as much as he could by working me in gradually. When I played and things went OK, everything was all right. But if I made a mistake or something, there were some pretty nasty things said."
By the end of that season Dunn had reduced Corbett and Spears to clipboard duty but had also managed to earn the respect of the team. By the time Duke and Maryland met a year later there were people saying Duke could take the Terps and Dunn was the reason.
"That game was the low point, no question about it," Dunn recalled of the 30-3 hammering the Blue Devils absorbed that day. "I think part of it was I tried to do too much. I wanted to prove to people I was better than Mark Manges and I blew it.
"The next week I was way down, ready to give it up. Coach McGee really got on me. He told me I couldn't let one game ruin a whole season and he expected me to come back and prove myself."
Seven days later Duke beat Georgia Tech, 31-7, and Dunn's teammates voted him the game ball. At 19 he had made his comeback.
Dunn still has many goals ahead. The Blue Devils have been 4-5-2 and 5-5-1 his first two seasons and are 1-2 now, Dunn feels they should be better - much better.
"I feel like we're sitting on a bomb that's about to go off," he said. "So many times we've been so close against good teams and not quite gotten there. We know we can do it.
"Sometimes it really tears me up inside the way we've lost. We know we're going to have to go out against Navy and just work like crazy for 60 minutes because they'll never die. They won't stop fighting, so we'll just have to outfight them."