For Navy Coach Gary Tranquill, the task is both elementary and difficult. He must persuade a football team that has endured five emotional contests in five weeks to take seriously Saturday's game against William and Mary.
"It's always a problem and more so here, because I think they're a fine football team," Tranquill said. "They're capable of beating us. I use the approach that it's the next game and we have to win that one.
"I don't think as much of who we're playing as taking care of ourselves. We haven't been taking care of ourselves. We've played probably four quarters of good, solid football on both sides of the ball, the first quarter at Arkansas and three quarters at Duke. Otherwise, one side or the other has let us down."
The combination of a 1-AA opponent with a losing record (2-3, the same as Navy's) and the distractions of exam week figures to make it difficult for the Midshipmen to be prepared mentally. But for at least one player, senior linebacker Carl Wagner, just being on the field each Saturday is sufficient motivation.
Wagner was an all-state wrestler at Concord High in Wilmington, Del. He also played football, although at 6 feet and 200 pounds, he was considered shy of both size and college potential.
Nevertheless, he went out for the Navy squad. As a freshman, he worked out in the field house. By his sophomore year, he made the traveling squad, but did not play at all. Last season, hampered by neck and knee injuries, he saw extremely limited duty, making a total of 17 tackles.
Despite past frustration and his second-string status at season's start, Wagner, now a 217-pounder, was back for one last chance. This time he moved into a starter's role and amassed 63 tackles in five games, a figure second only to team leader Andy Ponseigo, the linebacker talked about in all-America terms.
"I always thought I could play and I kept at it to prove I could. I thought for a while last year maybe the coaches were right. I wasn't playing much, because Andy Ponseigo was an outstanding linebacker and Ken Fancher had won the Mack Award as the most improved player in the spring. Then the injuries made it worse," said Wagner.
"During the offseason I did a lot of lifting, added more strength and worked to get a step faster."
He said there will be no letup on Saturday.
"In college football nowadays, anybody can beat anybody," he said.
Fullback Andy Skehan will miss Saturday's game because of rib damage. Fancher and safety Kurt Dixon are questionable . . . Rover Brian Cianella was named to ECAC all-East team following a pass interception and two fumble recoveries at Air Force . . . W&M sophomore Jeff Sanders of Severna Park has caught 32 passes for 471 yards.