Eighteen Navy seniors will be taking the field for the last time Saturday when the Midshipmen face Army, and at game’s end, 17 of them will be left an empty feeling after stripping off their football uniforms for the final time.
Then there’s Bob Kuberski, the towering senior defensive tackle who also will be putting away his Navy uniform for good. But Saturday’s game may not be his last.
At 6 feet 4, 275 pounds, Kuberski possesses speed (5.1 in the 40) and agility that helped him earn All-East honors a season ago. Several NFL scouts have come to Navy practices, games and the film room to see what Kuberski can do.
And Kuberski is attracting that kind of attention even though he faces a five-year military obligation after he graduates.
“There’s nothing really that I can do,” said Kuberski. He is hoping for an exemption, such as the one awarded to Navy basketball star David Robinson, who entered the NBA after serving just two years of his commitment. But the chances would appear to be slim. Kuberski said he hasn’t asked Navy officials about the possibility yet.
“I came here because it was a great opportunity to play football and to get a good education,” he said. “If they give me a chance to play pro football, great. If not, I’ll go and fulfill my commitment just like I promised.”
The obligation certainly makes scouts wary. “A guy like that, you don’t know when he’s going to be available,” said Joe Woolley, player personnel director for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Still, Woolley will be keeping a close eye on Kuberski in Saturday’s game. Other scouts will be there representing the Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills and New York Giants. “Any time you look at a guy 6-4 and 275 pounds and can run like he can, you’re obviously going to spend some time looking at the guy,” Woolley said.
The thought of playing professional football fills the minds of many a star high school athlete, but Kuberski was a realist as a fullback at Ridley High School in Folsom, Pa. He helped his team to a league championship and captained the West team in a southeastern Pennsylvania all-star game. But major college recruiters weren’t exactly tripping over each other to talk to him.
“Villanova, Delaware and other teams in the (Division I-AA Yankee Conference) came by and so did Rutgers,” Kuberski said. “Penn State said I was too small. I probably wasn’t good enough to play fullback, and maybe they thought I wasn’t big enough to play defensive line.
“I wanted to go to Navy or an academic I-AA school where I could get a chance to play a little earlier and not be just a number at some big school,” Kuberski said. “I really didn’t think about pro football.”
By the fourth game of his sophomore year, Kuberski was starting at defensive tackle, and he finished third on the team in tackles (74). And it was then that thoughts of the NFL were planted in his head.
“Just before my junior season (Navy assistant coach) Jake Gonos said ‘You keep working hard, one day you might get a chance to play with the big boys,’ ” Kuberski recalled. “We talked about it and he told me that some friends from the Giants would be by to look at me.”
The Giants have stopped by. So have the Dallas Cowboys, the Miami Dolphins, the Bills and a representative from the league’s scouting combine. More notice probably would have come Kuberski’s way if Navy had done better than 7-25 the past three seasons. The Midshipmen are 1-9 going into the game against Army (4-6).
“I feel bad about Kuberski, because on a (winning) team, he’d probably be mentioned as an All-American,” said Navy Coach George Chaump. “He’s gone against great opponents and great individuals and he has dominated in just about every case.
“I think he has a pro chance,” said Chaump, a former assistant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “He’s been an overwhelming lineman, but he’s hidden and you can’t see the effort. Studying the tapes and reviewing what he does, he’s been everything a coach could ask for. He could play, and excel, for any team in America.”
He is fifth on the team in tackles with 72, and he’ll try to add to that total in his final college football game. And then he’ll wait and see if it is, in fact, his final football game.
“I’m too small a man and in too little of a position to say what they’re going to do with me,” Kuberski said. “It’s kind of a Catch-22 thing. The pros want to hear ‘he can play’ and Navy wants to hear ‘he’s definitely going to get drafted, so what are we going to do about it?’
“I think it would be a great recruiting tool, and I’m not saying it just because it’s me,” Kuberski said. “Roger Staubach, I used to watch him all the time and I couldn’t believe he went to the Naval Academy. It’s a neat thing and an important thing. But I don’t know whether the military hierarchy will see it that way or not. I just have to wait and see.”