For Navy linebacker Andy Ponseigo, Saturday's game at Air Force is a special occasion, a fact brought home by his need to secure 51 tickets for friends and relatives.
Ponseigo, a junior, was an all-state football and baseball player at Arapahoe High School in Littleton, Colo. Despite those credentials, Air Force did not try to recruit Ponseigo until he had already committed himself to the Naval Academy.
"I wanted to get out of state, anyway," Ponseigo said. "I was born and raised there and I wanted to try something else. Now, going back there to play is a big thing for me.
"I played there as a plebe, when we lost, 21-20, but only on specialty teams. This time, I'm a little nervous and I want to do well. This will be the first game, since I've been a regular, that my mother has been able to see me in person."
Ponseigo, 6 feet 2 and 220, was a starter every game last season and was never below double figures in tackles as he recorded a school-record 152, including a high of 19 in the 3-3 tie with Army.
Ponseigo topped that figure with 21 in a magnificent effort during the 29-17 loss at Arkansas Sept. 18. But he recorded only six in Saturday's 27-21 victory over Duke and Coach Gary Tranquill felt it necessary today to volunteer a defense of his big-play man.
"Everybody wants to know why he's not making tackles," Tranquill said. "When a team throws the ball 51 times (as Duke did), how can he make tackles? This week against the wishbone, I hope he makes 50."
Whereas he spent the fourth quarter against Duke chasing potential pass receivers around as Tranquill declined to blitz, Ponseigo this week figures to be occupied giving different looks to the various elements of the Air Force wishbone, which has generated 438 yards and 33.4 points a game.
Ponseigo was a fine baseball pitcher until a hyperextended arm ended that career. It did not stop him, however. He became an outfielder and, last spring, as Navy's designated hitter, he batted .363 and was named to the NCAA Northeast Region all-star team after the Midshipmen were edged by Maine in a bid for a first-ever trip to Omaha.
When it comes to bragging rights in the Navy locker room, Ponseigo must yield to sophomore tackle Eric Rutherford in one respect. In Ponseigo's senior year in high school, Arapahoe was a 21-14 victim of Rutherford's Fairview team, which went on to win the Colorado 4A championship.