Like all college football seniors, Navy's Curt Gainer is hoping to finish out his career on a glamorous note. The soft-spoken, confident tight end won't have to do too much better last year's showing and have a good final season because accorinding to Gainer, "I didn't do anything as a junior."
"My first two years were fine but last year I switched to wide receiver and I didn't adjust to it at all," said the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Gainer. "I couldn't get it together out there. Maybe being out there by myself caused me to become a little lackadaisical. I should have caught more passes than I did (nine of 183 yards, two touchdowns) but . . . . like I said, I just didn't adjust to the position."
By last season's end, Gainer may have had second thoughts about a decision he had made the previous summer.
"I almost left the academy after my sophomore year," said Gainer. "Suddenly, I wasn't sure anymore if I wanted to be a naval officer. I told the coaches here I might not be back. I contacted Louisville, the other school I considered after high school, and they told me they would take me.
"But I reconsidered and came back. I made the decision to attend Navy in the first place and I made the decision to return. I talked to a lot of people but the decision to return was mine and mine alone."
The Navy coaching staff was glad the sure-handed Gainer came back and despite a drop off in the statistics department, the staff had no complaints about the Albany, Ga., native's play. He is back at his regular position this season because the players he replaced a year ago have recovered from injuries.
"Curt didn't have the great year catching the ball because we didn't throw the ball that well," said Mid Coach George Welsh. "We tried him at a new position and that wasn't his natural position. But his blocking didn't fall off. He's always had great natural ability and it was just a matter of his playing. This year, we definitely plan to make Curt an important part of the offense. We want to get him the ball more."
That suits "Pop," as he is called by his teammates, just fine.
"I have always felt I should have caught more passes," Gainer said. "I'm not saying I should catch, say five passes a game, but I should be making more than nine catches in a season. I like the tight end spot because you're right in there in the action, blocking or getting downfield in the patterns. I know I can catch the ball and I have good speed for a tight end (he runs the 40 in 4.7). But after last year, I guess I have to prove myself all over again."
Gainer, who didn't catch a pass as a freshman and caught only 12 for 142 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore, had a long talk with himself at the beginning of spring practice and "decided to give it all I had."
"This is my last year and I want to prove to the coaches and myself I can play the game," he said.
Gainer started off right, winning the award for the most improved player in spring drills. Welsh said there has been no drop off in Gainer's enthusiasm or mental attitude.
"He came back in a great frame of mind," said Welsh. "Plus, I think he may be a little quicker."
The youngest of five children, Gainer has one complaint about the academy.
"I don't think the social life is that good for the black Midshipmen, in particularly," said Gainer. "There aren't many here, so I guess what social life there is here is geared for the white population. But I have adjusted to that, too. It's not a big problem."
Gainer's biggest worry for the moment is getting mentally prepared for Navy's opener Sept. 13 at Virginia.
"If I had to play them today, I'd be ready," he said. "We don't have the team experience, size or overall skill we had last year but we have made a lot of progress. Last year, we had enough of everything that we could play poorly and come out on top. We can't do that this year."
Gainer, who is majoring in resources management, said he has only two modest objectives for the team and himself.
"I'd just like the team to play well and win the games we should win," he said. "That bothers me, losing to teams we should easily beat. For me, I'd just like to catch about 20 passes. But, if I just make my blocks, run my patterns and catch the balls thrown to me, I'd be happy. That's not asking too much from me, is it?"