Ah, the frill-free life of the Navy football player. Marcus Dupree: 'Ten-hut!

"You don't have the pressure of trying to impress a (pro) scout here, 'cause there's never any of them at practice," Andy Ponseigo was saying. "You can just do your own thing. Not be nervous. Same with the games. No agents hanging around, either. And when other coaches check our films, they're not looking for professional players."

They find two anyway. Looking only for ways to beat Navy, any coach worth his whistle and courtesy car knows Ponseigo could play a little linebacker for lots of NFL teams next season, and be extremely useful right away in the USFL. And that if Napoleon McCallum avoids injury another season at Navy, he could make a Hog believe he'd gone to blocking heaven.

Ponseigo never planned on being this good. Never dreamed a coach close to both, Gary Tranquill, would judge Ponseigo's football instincts as a collegian slightly superior to millionaire Tom Cousineau's. Never bounced a dream off the bedroom ceiling late at night that he might be good enough to support a family by rasslin' tailbacks.

That fact having been fairly well established, it won't come true.


Not unless a pro team is willing to invest more than a promise that it will wait five years for Ponseigo to fulfill his service obligation. Seven years if he stays on course and decides to fly. Not many NFL coaches are thrilled by 29-year-old rookies; not many USFL teams might be around by then.

Now, Ponseigo dreams.

As Dupree at times yearns for an instant of privacy, as Herschel Walker surely wanted to drop kick several agents out of Athens, Ga., Ponseigo wonders about life on football's freeway.

"I would love to play professioal ball," he admits. "I think about that a lot. But I'm in a situation now where I can't. There's no turning back. So why think about what you could have done? Just go ahead and live for what you've got now."

What he had six or so years ago was a hummer that had baseball scouts scurrying to Littleton, Colo. His right arm got hyperextended in football his senior year, however, and the elbow would tolerate no more than a few hard throws. He was not in demand as an outfielder.

Had he stayed healthy, Ponseigo still preferred a college education, financed by football, instead of a baseball bonus out of high school. His parents stressed a college whose education would provide the safest cushion should his football experience also be limited. He signed a letter of intent with Colorado; he attended Navy.

"In reality, I never thought I'd be able to play pro football," he says.

The goals he brought here were modest: to run under some kicks on special teams the first two years, make the traveling squad, possibly play some from scrimmage. And at least graduate.

"Academically," he says, "I'm right where I thought I'd be. Not great, not bad. Athletically, I never expected so much right away. When I came in, a couple guys got hurt and I was second team all of a sudden. When we got far enough ahead or behind, I got lots of playing time. It just kept developing from there."

His second season, Ponseigo set a Navy record with 152 tackles; his third season, he broke that by 17; this season, a leg injury kept him out of the Princeton game but he recovered and made 19 tackles last week against Notre Dame.

"He's got a sense you can't teach," Tranquill says. "Lots of linebackers see a blur once the play starts. He can sort things out and get where the ball is."

It's much harder, now that the 225-pound Ponseigo has become so good and the players around him either are less experienced or less talented than past seasons.

"Seems like a lotta guys coming from the backside I never saw before," he says. "I think after last year was when I realized I could play with about anybody. I set the record my sophomore year, but Tim Jordan was such a good nose guard I thought maybe he was keeping the center off me so I could get more of the tackles.

"Last year, I did it again. So I thought, 'Maybe there's something to this.' "

Alert for every possible advantage, as always, the Los Angeles Raiders sent Ponseigo a questionnaire; it remains uncompleted.

"There's a lot of things I don't do, like 100-yard dashes in pads," he says. "So I don't know what to put down. I'm kinda leery about handing it in, because it's almost like a jinx. You know, you think they think you're good enough to play for them, and then you go out and don't play as well as you think you should.

"Just a personal view."

Sentiment generally, and the seasoned eye of baseball Coach Joe Duff, has Ponseigo on the same athletic plateau as Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino. Their teams had records far better than the 2-6 Navy drags into the Syracuse game here Saturday. That's another reality Ponseigo cannot alter.

"I know Eddie (Meyers) had help from a lawyer trying to see if something could be worked with the Navy," Ponseigo says of his pro dilemma. "It couldn't. As the season goes on, the prospects get dimmer and dimmer, because you don't hear anything (from pro teams willing to take a chance, as the Cowboys did with Staubach).

"I guess I'd rather not hear anything. Then I wouldn't have any question marks in my mind."