The moments before noon formation at the Naval Academy's Bancroft Hall seem chaotic. Uniformed young men run the glossy corridors. The rumbling echo of slamming doors resembles that of approaching artillery. A single pale plebe is stationed near the foot of the steel stairway, emitting a staccato, high-pitched cry. He is as unintelligible as a bus depot announcer. Napoleon McCallum stands to one side, smiling a fond smile, and interprets. "He is saying, 'Time, tide and formation wait for no one. You have five minutes, sir.'
"They showed me this when I was being recruited," McCallum continues. "How plebes have to chop [run] in the center of the hall, and recite standing orders and the chain of command and what was in the paper this morning whenever an upperclassman demands it. You have to laugh it off. You don't take it to heart because one year of being yelled at gets you three years of being able to yell."
Yet he doesn't yell. During the summer McCallum, who's a first classman (senior) and near the top of the midshipman chain of command, served as a squad leader, which meant that he was responsible for 14 second and third classmen. His duties included disciplining them, providing guidance, taking muster at formation and conducting room and personnel inspections. McCallum seems remarkably un-Napoleonic, for he is tall and well-built (6'2" and 214 pounds), uncalculating and harbors no obsession to rule. "Guys here are already motivated," he says. "I gotta help them, but yelling at them doesn't serve a purpose." McCallum also may be the best college running back in the nation.
That makes him, as he joins the flood of midshipmen pounding down the stairs and into King Hall, a phenomenon found only once every 20 years or so at a service academy. McCallum led the country in all-purpose running in 1983, averaging 216.8 yards a game. He rushed for 1,587 yards on a 3-8 team against defenses stacked to stop him, and finished sixth in the 1983 Heisman Trophy voting.
Now he stands behind his chair at the end of his table, listening to the day's announcements. Above, the great hall's timbers curve as do those belowdecks in the old ships of the line. Golden chandeliers seem to march to the horizon. The aroma of shoe polish is strong but loses out to steaming Irish stew.
Finally, all may be seated. The plebes at the table hurriedly pass food, juice and milk. After several hurried gulps, plebe D.K. Flick asks to leave the table. McCallum questions Flick on his efforts in the latest round of midterm exams. Flick lists marks in engineering, math, navigation. "Everything went up?" says McCallum.
"Nothing went down?"
"Fine," says McCallum with a nod. "You may be excused."