he first three times Napoleon McCallum touched the ball against Notre Dame last week resulted in minor disasters. Two running plays produced minus five yards and a kickoff return with 35 seconds left in the first half was fumbled away, leading to a Notre Dame field goal and a 13-0 lead.
"I remember each of those plays very well," said McCallum, who was playing with a bruised shoulder. "The shoulder didn't have anything to do with the fumble. All I could think about was us losing (27-10) and me not doing much to prevent it."
McCallum, the team's leading rusher, was unable to atone as Coach Gary Tranquill, feeling he was running tentatively, used McCallum only on punt and kickoff returns. He finished with six returns for 52 yards.
Despite the mediocre performance, McCallum, a sophomore from Milford, Ohio, ranks eighth in the nation in all-purpose running with a per-game average of 156.4 and fifth place in punt returns with a 14.0 per-return average. He needs only 15 yards to break Bill Busik's 42-year-old Academy single-season record for most yards on punt returns (280).
McCallum is now almost completely recovered from his shoulder problem and expects to play an important role Saturday when Navy (4-4) meets Syracuse (2-6) in the Carrier Dome.
"I'm ready now. The shoulder is better and I'm looking forward to having a good game up there," said McCallum, who says he would be playing for Syracuse had he not received an appointment to the Academy. "I enjoy playing on AstroTurf and we want to win our remaining games. I know I need to be productive to help the team. I would love to have the type of game I had against Duke."
McCallum, who spent his freshman year giving Navy's all-time leading rusher, Ed Meyers, an occasional breather, gained attention with a 211-yard rushing effort in a 27-21 upset of Duke five weeks ago. Against William and Mary two weeks later, he rushed for 30 yards rushing to increase his season total to 436 before suffering the shoulder injury.
"I've had good practices this week but I still don't have that early-season sharpness yet." said McCallum. "Maybe it's the classes . . . I haven't had that contact in a couple of weeks but I'll be fine Saturday after two hits."
It shouldn't take McCallum long to get his adrenaline flowing. Syracuse's defense, led by 6-foot-4, 280-pound Mike Charles, has played well this season despite the team's poor record. Before routing Colgate, 49-15, last week, Syracuse had lost six straight games.
"They've played a very good schedule (Pitt, Penn State, Maryland) and their defense has become solid each week," Tranquill said. "The last few weeks, he (Coach Dick MacPherson) has changed his offense some. He's gone more to a running game."
Most of the running is done by tailback Jaime Covington, a sophomore who rushed for 192 yards and scored three times against Colgate. The Orange offense has had problems mainly because freshmen Greg Christodulu and Todd Norley have alternated at quarterback much of the time. Norley, who has completed 42 of 81 passes for 508 yards with 10 interceptions, will start this week.
The game could come down to a rushing contest between Covington and McCallum. Since Navy quarterback Tom Tarquinio threw six interceptions against Notre Dame and McCallum is nearly 100 percent again, Tranquill may opt to return to a run-oriented offense. Navy employed a shotgun formation last week to offset the Irish's strong pass rush.
"I'm sure we'll keep the shotgun alive this week but we have added a few new running plays," Tranquill said.
McCallum will surely do his part. "I went up there (Syracuse) when they recruited me and I know what it's like to play there," he said.
Navy linebacker Andy Ponseigo was named to the ECAC all-east team for his 13-tackle performance against Notre Dame . . . Syracuse holds a 12-7 all-time advantage over Navy, although the Midshipmen have won the last two years, 6-3 and 35-28 . . . Navy is averaging 344.4 yards per game and allowing 344.1.