Frank McCallister never gave the Naval Academy a second thought when he was being recruited as a high school senior five years ago. McCallister had only two things in mind when he signed with North Carolina -- having a good time, both on and off the field, and being drafted by the NFL.
"Football was life and death to me then," said McCallister, described by Navy Coach George Welsh as of the two finest offensive linemen he has ever coached. "Academics didn't mean much, only football. I was willing to sacrifice anything and everything to play at UNC, and I did.
"I loved the campus life, the partying, and the football. I was out of control down there. And, yes, I flunked out."
McCallister said he was lucky. After a few months of soul searching, he was able to enroll at Navy.
"I re-assessed my priorities in time and decided to do something with myself," said McCallister, 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior guard from Pittsburgh. m"I grew up a lot. Being a pro football player was once my main objective in life. Not any more."
For the 100 or so midshipment who play football at the Academy each year, pro football is not a priority. Following four rugged years of undergraduate work at the academy, McCallister and his teammates face five years in the military, not the NFL.
"Roger Staubach (1963 Heisman Trophy winner at Navy) was the execption here." said Navy quarterback Fred Reitzel. "Very few people, if any, think about going into the pros. Had I gone to one of the other schools that recruited me, I would be thinking pro, too.
"But the guys here know the odds of getting to the pros. Football is very important to us and I'm sure many of the teams we play have learned to respect us," said Reitzel, a senior.
"Navy wasn't exactly the type of school I had in mind when I finished high school. I wasn't sure I could handle the rigorous military life and all the discipline here. But it's not bad at all and I don't regret my decision a bit."
Most Navy players believe people have no idea what they go through. The athletes receive no special favors.Class attendance is mandatory. These are no easy courses, no majors in passblocking III.
"Coming from another school, I know what it's like to sort of go through the motions academically," McCallister said. "Here, you have to work. And if you're doing poorly here, everyone knows it. But the teachers here are always on call and will go out of their way to help you.
"And the coaches here understand the military life. There's no pressure to produce and the attitude isn't the same as it is at other schools. Football is serious business here but you don't have to worry about being dropped or ridiculed."
Despite the tough academic work, the limited social atmosphere and the bleak prospect for a pro football career, most athletes say they are happy at the Academy.
"Most of us came to Navy to play football, but most importantly to get that good education," said cornerback Jon Ross. "Since we're here together, we can share one another's problems and we don't have to worry about one guy trying to pad his individual stats to impress the pro scouts.
"We have guys who could play pro but most of them realize the odds, so they don't worry about it," Ross said. "So, we have more of a team effort."
Welsh, a former quarterback and graduate of the Academy, understands and sympathizes with his players feelings. He puts no pressure on them nor does he fret when he is unable to recruit the high school blue chippers.
"I know what the young men think about these days, the glamor of college ball and the high salaries in the NFL," Welsh said. "So, I accept things the way they are. We still get good athletes here and I've been happy with the players we've had. We know we can't compete with the Notre Dames, Michigans and the Pitts on a regular basis. Our program here is not geared to haveing 10-0 seasons and getting a bowl bid every year. It's not that important."
Deep down, most Mids realize they can't consistently beat the major powers.
Still, that doesn't mean they don't try.
"Beating those teams means something extra to us," said defensive tackle Steve Chambers. "We have played most of those teams tough, so we must be doing something right. No one looks down on us anymore."
"I think the players at other schools see what we go though and respect us for it," Reitzel said. "They also see we take the game as seriously as they do and don't consider us any easy game any longer. No one takes us lightly".
"People go to certain schools just to play football," Chambers said. "To them, football is more important than academics. Here, we combine both, but academics is first."
Junior tailback Ed Meyers agreed.
"When I leave the Academy, I know where my future will be and I won't have any regrets," he said. "I was never recruited that highly because I was considered too small. At 5-9, it would have been tough looking at the pros, anyway.
"Had I gone elsewhere, maybe now my game would be good enough to be thinking pro. But I never felt I had any pro potential. I'm here because I liked the Navy life and I have no regrets at all."
"Football is only a small part of the Navy scene," said junior split end Greg Pappajohn. "If we don't run a 4.6 in the 40, we will still get a diploma. Our academic work is as important to us as scoring touchdowns is important to guys at other schools. Schools are aware we don't get the 9.2 sprinters or the big guys, but they know we always come out with a competitive team.
"Don't get me wrong," emphasized Pappajohn. "Football is a big part of our lives and if we didn't have it, it might be difficult to stay here. But we are a very close group of individuals and we understand what we have to do. We use football to keep us going."