Napoleon McCallum will return.

The greatest running back in Navy history was granted an unprecedented fifth year of football eligibility yesterday in a decision reportedly reviewed as high as the Pentagon.

McCallum will be "stretched out" at Navy for one additional semester. McCallum, who missed the rest of the 1984 season after breaking his right ankle in the second game, will take a full course load during the spring, summer and fall semesters and will qualify for a double major.

"I decided we had an obligation to support him after all the support he has provided for the Naval Academy and the Navy itself in recent years," Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Charles Larson said in a statement. "He has been one of the most heralded athletes at the Academy in the past two decades and has accrued for this institution an immeasurable amount of favorable recognition."

"I'm thrilled and delighted," said Navy Coach Gary Tranquill, whose team was 4-6-1 last season. "I'm pleased for Nap because he is such a great young man and obviously I'm happy for the team . . . That's a pretty good recruit to start the year with."

McCallum was "sick in rooms" and unavailable for comment in the wake of what figures to be a controversial decision. "We have mid-year graduates who are 'stretched out' for one reason or another every year, but it's never been a football player before," said Tranquill. "It's unprecedented (so) I'm sure there'll be some adverse reaction . . . I don't know how high the decision went and I'm not even going to ask."

"The granting of a hardship year to a midshipman will not become a routine practice during my tenure as superintendent," Larson said. "The Naval Academy will not engage in the practice of 'redshirting' varsity athletes . . . This is a unique case which was decided on its own merits." Almost all Division I NCAA schools routinely redshirt players, including the Air Force Academy.

McCallum, who holds every all-purpose career yardage record at Navy and rushed for 1,587 yards in 1983, still must honor his five-year service obligation before becoming eligible to play professional football.

McCallum can play next season under what the NCAA terms a hardship waiver, according to John Leavens, director of legislative services for the NCAA.

"It grants a student an additional season of competition based on an incapacitating injury or illness that results in a student being unable to complete the season," Leavens said. "It (the injury) has to occur in the first half of the season and as long as the student hasn't participated in more than 20 percent of the school's completed events."