ANNAPOLIS -- Four years ago, John Nobers matriculated at the Naval Academy, unintimidated by the prospective rigors of life as a plebe and as a midshipman.

"Heck, I'd been yelled at before," Nobers said recently. "It's something you just have to put up with all your life. I mean, people are going to be in your face all your life no matter what you do. Here, you're taught to handle it and that's exactly what I do."

Good thing, too.

Nobers' collegiate football career includes seven plays and zero varsity letters. He has worked in the wishbone as a member of Navy's scout team, but has never done so in a game at any point in his career.

Nonetheless, when Navy's new coach, Elliot Uzelac, and his new offense make their debut Saturday against William and Mary at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Nobers will also be making his debut -- as the starting quarterback.

Is he worried? Not a chance. "It's the same thing on the field as it is in life," Nobers said. "Someone jumps in your face or you have a bad play and you're in a bad position; you just have to reach down and keep going."

At Navy, Nobers has had plenty of football challenges jump in his face. So far, he has been able to reach down and keep going.

"John's doing an excellent job," Uzelac said yesterday. "He's making the right reads about 90 percent of the time. He understands the wishbone. You may fool him once or twice, but not again."

Such praise must be welcome for Nobers who, after enjoying tremendous success at Western Beaver High School in Beaver County, Pa., essentially dropped out of sight behind Bill Byrne, Bob Misch and Joe Lauletta, all of whom were just one year ahead of him in school. But then, during this year's spring practice period, he won an award for being the most improved player of the spring, the starting quarterback position -- and he has not been challenged since.

"You don't expect to be at a school three years and then get to play," he said. "You expect to start playing after you learn the system and get into it. You can't dwell on the past, but you can't ever forget it, either. My situation was unfortunate, but there's always good to be taken from it."

Asked if something extra is driving Nobers this year, quarterbacks coach Greg Seamon said, "I think there's a lot extra that drives John Nobers. He is a very proud young man. His opportunity here has been very limited and he is determined to do everything in his power to make sure he is part of the team that turns things around."

The question is just what is within his power. He comes into this season without experience and without eye-popping athletic ability, two qualities usually considered critical for wishbone quarterbacks.

"The college game has become so sophisticated that athletic talent alone will rarely lets you be successful at the quarterback position," Seamon said. "You must be able to to make great decisions and have great command of the offensive system. Jamelle Holieway can outrun his mistakes; he may misread the play and simply outrun the defense to the wide side of the field. John is not that quick or that fast.

"John's strength is his consistency and his mental capability. John can handle a lot of information very quickly and very well, and he doesn't make mistakes under pressure, at least he hasn't in practice. He may not be the 6-foot-6, 215-pound guy {Nobers is 6-0, 198}, but I think he's our leader. He's our guy."

Navy Notes:

The Midshipmen will start the season without five players who had been projected as starters: senior wide receiver Troy Saunders (underwent arthroscopic knee surgery a second time Tuesday, probably lost for the season); senior defensive back Curtis Irby (arthrosopic surgery on his right knee 10 days ago, out at least two games); junior defensive back Albert Peltier (continued problems following major knee surgery last fall, out indefinitely); senior running back Don Holl (undiagnosed ankle injury, out indefintely); senior kicker Ted Fundoukos (strained hamstring).

To make up for the injuries, which particularly depleted the secondary, sophomore Larry Dickinson has been moved from wide receiver to defensive back, where he is scheduled to start Saturday . . . A total of 23 plebes are expected to dress Saturday, led by Frank Schenk (Fundoukos' replacement at kicker), Alton Grizzard (named No. 2 quarterback) and Greg Hlatky (a 6-5, 220-pound backup at outside linebacker).