As usual, Navy's football team displayed signs of early season collapse yesterday. Fifteen seniors, building a human pyramid as the climax of the team's picture day, became a muddled mass when 153-pound placekicker Bob Tata tried to scramble up to complete the pose.
The Mids joked about their failure and they could do a lot more laughing before this campaign ends Dec. 2 with the annual Army game. Navy has only 29 lettermen, but it boasts rare depth and unwonted speed. If the offensive line and secondary develop, the Mids should enjoy their second winning season in Coach George Welsh's six-year stewardship.
"We lost a lot of people, but I don't think this is a rebuilding year," Welsh said. "We could be a good team early. One of our goals is certainly a winning season, and I think it's a realistic goal.
"Our two areas of concern are the offensive line and the secondary. They are two of the toughest positions to coach and two of the most important areas in football. I think we have some quality athletes there, some of whom haven't played before, and it's a question whether they can adapt."
Only rover Gregg Milo has experience in the secondary, where personnel switched from more popular spots will try to replace such graduated stars as John Sturges and Mike Galpin.
Charlie Meyers, an absentee yesterday while completing a summer-school exam, is attempting the difficult shift from middle guard to strong corner. Bob Wilson moves from wingback to quick corner and Fred Reitzel goes from quarterback to safety.
"There is more depth, no question," said Welsh, and his statement was confirmed by the presence of some duplicate numbers, even though incoming plebes were not present.
Besides a 90-man squad, plebes not counted, Navy will enjoy the absence of Michigan on its early schedule. Five of the last six years, the Mids not only were beaten by the Wolverines, but the after-effects produced defeats the following week as well.
"We tried to schedule Alabama and Ohio State, but they were full," laughed Athletic Director Bo Coppedge. Still, Boston College, Duke, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Florida State promise rugged competition, and a winning campaign is far from a certainty.
What prompts the optimism, however, is the presence of superior speed in tailback Steve Callahan, wide receivers Phil McConkey and Sandy Jones, and tight end Curt Gainer. If Dave Walker takes over the fullback job, the Mids will be even faster. He is No. 1 now, while Larry Klawinski, who skipped spring practice for lacrosse, occupies Welsh's doghouse.
"Compared to what we've had, this is a quicker team offensively," Welsh said. "We match up well with anybody in that department. You can overcome lack of size, but there's nothing you can do about speed. We've been killed before when we played teams that were quicker."
To take advantage of the speed, Welsh promises more option plays, with quarterback Bob Leszczynski pitching to Callahan or throwing to the speedy receivers. Instead of Joe Gattuso running 266 times, Navy will utilize a balanced attack. With a five-year mark of 24-31, Welsh would like to balance the record books, too.