George Welsh is a man placed on a unfamiliar but not unwelcome spot.
In each of his six previous seasons as Navy's football coach, Welsh started out with the knowledge that a .500 campaign would keep everybody happy. Even though only one of the first five topped that figure, few Navy watchers expressed public displeasure.
Then, last year, Welsh's Mids surprisingly won their first seven games, finished 9-3, including a Holiday Bowl triumph over Brigham Young, and were ranked among the nation's top 20. With lettermen filling every position on both offense and defense and spilling over as far as third string at tight end and fullback, a lot of folks are prepared to celebrate an encore.
For example, today's media day photo session featured the Mids and goat crashing through a sign that read: "Navy '79, On Its Way to Another Bowl Victory." Stars and braid were prominent among the hangers-on and even the mayor of Annapolis appeared to bask in winning company.
Welsh chose not to prick the predominant bubble of optimism, despite the obvious pressure it places on him.
"Id rather have it this way," Welsh said. "With the kind of athletes we have -- the size, the speed and the experience -- we have a lot going for us. We're big and quick enough to line up with just about everybody. This may be the biggest team I've ever had here.
"Overall, we have more people who we can play and win with than we had before. We have more depth in the offensive line, in the secondary, more linebackers and more defensive ends. Where we have fewer people is at quarterback and at wide receiver."
A year ago, injuries wore down the Navy ship and were instrumental in losses to Syracuse and Florida State that followed the initial defeat by Notre Dame. Despite the abundance at most positions, this Navy team appears vulnerable should quarterback Bob Powers be struck by the injury bug.
Powers, a senior, is the Mids' No. 1 quarterback. Welsh declines to name a No. 2, although he is giving Kevin McTavish, a senior out of Washington's Carroll High, and sophomore Mark Fitzgerald of Severna Park the early opportunities to earn that post.
Powers is a superior runner, which makes his physical situation the more precarious, but Welsh claims there will be no attempt to put him under protective cover.
"When you're setting up what you have to do to win, you have to use your abilities," Welsh said. "We're going to run him and hope that he can hold up. He's a leader and an adequate passer, and certainly a strong runner."
"I've worked just as hard on passing as on anything else," Powers said. "Sure, my passing is better. We have a lot of depth at running back and I run the ball pretty well, but we certainly should be able to throw when we have to."
The top running backs of 1978, fullback Larry Klawinski and tailback Steve Callahan, are coming off injuries and Klawinski, who underwent knee surgery, is a doubtful quantity. Welsh has given each a starting job but there are some talented backup men waiting to break through in fullback Kevin Tolbert, who blazed through the 40-yard trial in 4.5 seconds, and tailback Mike Sherlock.
"Tolbert has shown tremendous improvement from one year to the next," Welsh said. "He was fifth-string at this time last year and wound up starting the last three games. Now he is one of the best, if not the best, back we've got.
"Sherlock understands that he will run some with the No. 1 unit and he will play a lot."
The anchor of Navy's defensive line is All-East tackle John Merrill, a 257-pounder who is 100 percent again after fighting knee and ankle injuries during the last half of 1978. Merrill obliged a photographer today by posing with little Wendy Markos, who promptly screamed in terror.Navy does not figure to frighten many of its opponents that easily, but it is counting on a lot of victories this fall.