When Georgia Tech faces the Naval Academy in their nationally televised season opener on Sept. 4, Heisman hopeful Joe Hamilton will stare into familiar eyes.
Starting at outside linebacker for the Midshipmen will be former Silver Bluff High standout John Chavous. The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder from Jackson, S.C., stands at 2-0 versus the Yellow Jacket, having erased Hamilton's Macedonia team from the Class AA state playoffs in 1994 and '95.
"I've already told these guys that I'm undefeated against him," Chavous said. "But I've always thought he was a great athlete. A lot of people look over him because of his size, but he does a lot of things normal quarterbacks just don't do. It should be fun."
Chavous, who garnered all-Region 6-AA honors in his last two seasons as a Bulldog, enters his senior year as a first-time starter. He was used primarily as a special teams player in his sophomore and junior seasons, but managed 15 tackles and a blocked punt last season as backup safety.
With Tim DeRuyter in his first season as the Midshipmen's defensive coordinator, Chavous moves to linebacker from safety as Navy will switch from last season's four-man front to a three-man front with four linebackers. DeRuyter, who comes from Ohio University, has seen little of Chavous, but enough to spell his importance.
"He's a very, very smart football player and we plan for him to be a big part of our package," DeRuyter said. "We wished he were a little bigger, but he did really well this spring. He's a sharp guy and he's actually our best cover man. He has a chance to be really good."
Chavous and the Midshipmen will get their share of coverage this season, with five nationally televised games (one on NBC, one on CBS and three on Fox Sports Net), tied with Michigan for third most in college football. Notre Dame tops the list with 10 and Miami (Fla.) is second with seven.
The national exposure couldn't come at a more opportune time for Chavous, who said he wouldn't mind joining cousin and former Silver Bluff teammates Corey Chavous and D'Wayne Bates in the NFL.
"Of course I want to make the most of it," he said. "I've always worked hard, but watching them make it has just fueled me a little more. Playing pro ball is everyone's dream. I'll definitely try to make a name for myself this season."
The road to a starting role began at Navy's prep school in Rhode Island, then on the Navy junior varsity his freshman season.
Even after his promotion to the varsity ranks his sophomore season, Chavous had more problems adjusting to college football than the military lifestyle.
"It wasn't that tough getting used to the military because I was used to discipline," the senior said. "I got down and frustrated a little because I didn't think I was getting the playing time I deserved. But I stayed positive and my family really helped me through that."
While playing professional football is a dream, graduating next August with his bachelor of arts degree in economics is more a reality.
"Getting my degree will no doubt be my biggest achievement," he said. "This has been a growing experience for me. I've done and seen things in the Navy that I wouldn't have if I'd stayed closer to home. All in all, it's been positive. But the first thing is to stay undefeated against Hamilton by beating Georgia Tech."
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