Navy senior Tony DiFranco was in a restaurant a few blocks from campus, having a few drinks with friends last month and watching a live broadcast of Navy football coach Paul Johnson's weekly radio show, when he decided to participate in the question-and-answer segment.
"There are a lot of super fans for Navy and I wanted to know if there's anything we could do to show our support," DiFranco said. "So I asked him if we could have a fan who could go on the field for a kickoff as a sign of support from the brigade."
DiFranco may get his chance. He was one of 17 seniors selected by leaders of Navy's six battalions who tried out yesterday for two spots to be on the field for Navy during its first kickoff for an upcoming game. One player will compete against Delaware on Oct. 30; the other will play in the Nov. 20 game against Rutgers.
Each winner will get to wear the most prestigious number in Navy history -- the No. 12 worn by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach. The NFL Hall of Famer agreed to temporarily bring his number out of retirement.
"That's the ultimate dream of a Navy football fan," said the 5-foot-9, 160-pound DiFranco, a native of Cleveland whose only organized football experience is playing the flag variety in intramurals. "I've been dreaming about getting to wear Roger Staubach's number and go out on the field and put my helmet on the ball and cause a fumble that Navy recovers."
After the prospective football players had their heights and weights taken, they took the field for approximately 10 minutes. They each ran a 40-yard dash and a shuttle run, which judges how fast a player changes direction.
Johnson and his staff will review the tryout results and notify the winners today. "We're looking for someone with speed and agility to run down and cover the kick," Johnson said. "It's not rocket science."
-- Jon Gallo