When Michigan coach Bo Schembechler lost all of his first-string linebackers after last season, he went out and recruited 10 standouts from Massachusetts to California. Five were all-Americas.
When Navy Coach George Welsh was faced with a similar predicament, his recourse was to move defensive end Ken Fancher to linebacker.
"That's the basic difference between our program and the ones at Michigan, Notre ydame or some of those type institutions," said Welsh. "When they need something, they go out and recruit it. We don't have the luxury of zeroing in on one position like that. Our help usually has to come from within."
Welsh has proved to be somewhat of a genius at picking the right athlete to switch positions. He is hoping the move of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Fancher to linebacker will pay off.
"We have only so many athletes here, and we hve to make sure we get as many of them on the field at a time as we can," said Welsh. "That's why we do so much position changing. If a young man is an athlete, we try to find a place for him. We needed linebackers and Fancher was the logical choice to move to the position."
Some other key Mids who had their positions changed are tailback Eddie Meyers, who used to be a fourth-string fullback, defensive end Tracy Wallington, a former tight end, and Greg Papajohn, who was switched from Wide receiver to tight end.
The classic example of Welsh's success at position moves was Jeff Sapp, a 1976 all-America nose guard. He was tried first at linebacker, then at defensive back and defensive end "and wasn't that effective at any of them," said Welsh. "We finally tried him at nose guard and he was great."
Fancher, a junior from Altus, Okla., adapted to the switch well enough to win the Vice Admiral William P. Macy Award as the most improved player during spring practice.
"Obviously, he had a real good spring," said Welsh, "but right now he's a little behind where we'd want him to be. That's understandable because there's a lot more to learn now than there was in the spring. He still has a couple of weeks, though, and I think he'll be okay."
Fancher played at 200 pounds last season and knew he needed more weight to play linebacker, so he lifted weights during the offseason "and ate everything I could." He gained 10 pounds and kept in on, even through two-a-day practices.
Navy plays basically a 5.2.4 system on defense, so Fancher is teaming with sophomore Andy Ponseigo at the two linebackers at a time in that alignment, some of Fancher's duties as a defensive end were similar to those of an outside linebacker. The switch was not that dramatic for him, but there still are major differences because he is moving inside.
"At defensive end you wait more for things to happen," said Fancher. "At linebacker, you have to fill the holes and attack the ball. It's rougher and there's more action. You play both sides of the field, too. Blockers come at you from all sides."
Reading keys and pass coverage understadably have been most difficult for Fancher to grasp. "But the more I do it, the easier it becomes," he said.
Fancher is leaning a great deal on Ponseigo, who he says is "more physical, more experienced, quicker and faster than I am. The only thing I have on him is maybe that I'm dumber."
By the time the season starts, Sept. 12 against The Citadel, the Mids are hoping Fancher will be as effective as Ponseigo.
And if he doesn't work out, an unsuspecting running back, tight end or center could be in for a position change.