Navy's Raheem Lambert said the toughest thing about playing fullback is blocking.

"It's not just blocking people coming toward you," said Lambert, a sophomore. "It's going out on the flank and hitting linebackers. You can watch the film all you want, but it's just a matter of going out and doing it."

Running the ball, however, comes easier for the former high school all-American from Riverside, Calif., whose rare combination of power and speed have some talking about him as Navy's best back since Napoleon McCallum.

"He has a very different running style than the normal running back," Navy slotback Dre Brittingham said. "He's real hard to adjust to as a defensive player. He can hit you with power, then he can come back next play and hit you with finesse, moves and speed. Those are the hardest backs to defend."

In Southern California, his gridiron performances are legendary.

His Norte Vista High School coach, Ken Batdorf, remembers a playoff game in which Lambert barely missed a California record, rushing for 400 yards on 22 carries.

"We didn't even know he had that many yards," he said. "We blew the team out and we pulled Raheem out at the end of the third quarter. Then we found out the state record for a playoff game was 414 yards. In one carry he could've done that."

As a senior, Lambert was named a finalist for California athlete of the year. The attention wasn't quite what Lambert expected, based on his meager beginnings.

Lambert grew up in a village in the southern part of Belize that he called "almost Third World." Houses were made of wood, indoor plumbing was scarce and the preferred mode of transportation was boat. At age 7, Lambert and his family left Belize when the Air Force reassigned his father.

With the encouragement of his father, Lambert began playing flag football at age 12. But one year later, his father died.

Wanting to make him proud, Lambert continued in the sport, and played his first tackle football game as a high school freshman. While coaches raved about his potential, Lambert's mother, Jovita, was less enthused.

"My mom didn't really know football," Lambert said. "There was one point where my grades where slipping [as a sophomore] and she was ready to have me quit the team."

Lacking the financial resources to send her son to college, Jovita wanted Raheem to enlist in the armed services straight out of high school and get a jump on his future.

Batdorf disagreed: "I had to sit her down and say, 'Look, we're talking about a young man that can run a 4.4 or 4.5 40[-yard dash] and a 10.8 100-meter. He's got a great future, and somebody's going to offer him a scholarship.' "

Sure enough, schools such as California, Stanford, Northwestern and Washington soon came calling. With a 3.7 grade-point average and 1,100 SAT, Lambert was intent on attending a school with a strong academic reputation.

Finally, Lambert chose Annapolis, in part because of a "big" home visit from Coach Charlie Weatherbie, and also as a means to follow in his father's military footsteps.

These days, Lambert is beginning to make his mark in college. He has rushed for 530 yards, averaging 6.2 yards a carry, and four touchdowns, despite struggling part of the season with a separated shoulder. He has rushed for more than 90 yards three times, and broken touchdown runs of 79 yards against Rice and 61 yards last week against Rutgers.

"We put him at fullback because our fullback carries the ball a lot," Weatherbie said. "He's got to become more of a complete player. He's got to be a great blocker as well as a great ball carrier, because that's the role we ask of our fullback.

"And Raheem Lambert is just one heck of a ball carrier."