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Central grad O'Rourke enjoying success as Navy coach

As the clock wound down to zero, Danny O'Rourke couldn't help it.

The Navy linebackers coach had to join his players in rushing onto the football field. What better way to express pure joy, the feeling that comes with breaking a 43-game losing streak to mighty Notre Dame. The bad run against the Fighting Irish was an NCAA record for most consecutive losses to one opponent.

The emotions were even higher for O'Rourke because it was a stop by his defensive players that sealed the win - the stuffing of a Notre Dame two-point conversion run in triple overtime of the 46-44 victory.

"I was just so proud of the kids," O'Rourke, a 1994 Central Gwinnett graduate in his sixth season as an assistant for the Midshipmen, said of the feeling after the Notre Dame victory. "I was just proud of everybody. It was like they were trying to take it from us, but they had to fight through and get it done.

"We've got good kids here. They're not the most athletic, but they play hard and they give you all they've got."

That's why O'Rourke has enjoyed his time at Navy so much. He said he appreciates the dedication of his players, who have seen great rewards under head coach Paul Johnson and his staff.

The Midshipmen have defeated Air Force five straight times and also have dominated Army, putting a stranglehold on the Commander in Chief's Trophy, given out for supremacy in the Army-Navy-Air Force rivalry. Navy hadn't claimed the trophy since 1981, but it has won the past four. A win today over Army would be the fifth straight.

Navy had gone 3-30 before Johnson and his staff arrived and went 2-10 in his first season. Since then, it has won eight or more games four straight seasons. It sports a 7-4 record going into today's game with Army, building a strong enough season that it's already accepted a bid to the Poinsettia Bowl.

"If we can win (against Army) our senior class can be the winningest class in school history," O'Rourke said. "All of those kids we've recruited, too, so that means a lot. We're going to our fifth straight bowl game. Before we got here, they had never been to two in a row."

Not that the turnaround at Navy has been a breeze. Building a top-notch football program at a military academy is tougher than it is at other places, because the recruiting pool for players isn't wide open. Not every high school senior wants to join the military and not every student is ready academically for the Annapolis, Md., school's rigorous curriculum.

"The guys that we're coaching are great kids, but we don't have guys who turn down a bunch of scholarships from other places," O'Rourke said. "When we're playing Duke, Duke should beat us on paper. I can't beat Duke in recruiting. I've lost recruits to Ivy League schools. If they've got no scholarship offers and they don't want to go military, they won't come here.

"But what you are getting is tough kids who go through a lot here. They enjoy their time at practice. They enjoy their time here. And they play hard as heck."

The hardest part is getting those high school players to Navy. The program recruits nationally, so assistants get large portions of the country, although O'Rourke doesn't even get his home state. Georgia belongs to fellow assistant Brian Bohannon, a Griffin native and a former Georgia wide receiver.

Instead, O'Rourke is in charge of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Colorado and New Mexico, as well as South Texas, where he spends much of his time. He also recruits 15 schools in Maryland. With limited recruiting time, it isn't unusual to see him in four different states in a four-day period.

"The thing that we sell and the reason we get guys (in recruiting) is the education," O'Rourke said. "It's the best education in the country. You're talking a $280,000, $300,000 scholarship. You get a chance to play Division I-A football in the big stadiums against big schools and you have a great opportunity when you get out of school. You have a five-year commitment to the military, but you've got a job that pays well. And after your five years, you're free to do what you want, in or out of the military."

O'Rourke, who played football at West Georgia, made a commitment himself when he came to Navy, accepting one of two military coaching positions at the academy. He was commissioned into the military for a four-year period for the position, which he knew would be different than his previous coaching stops - Temple (as a graduate assistant), Georgia Southern and Valdosta State.

But he jumped at the chance to work with Johnson, who seems to be mentioned for head coaching vacancies at powerhouse schools most every offseason.

"I don't know why his name wouldn't come up for any job," O'Rourke said of Johnson. "What he's done here is unbelievable."

Johnson has been a major coaching mentor for O'Rourke, who also said Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Greene and Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp have influenced him at the college level. Muschamp coached O'Rourke during his senior year at West Georgia.

But O'Rourke also mentioned two of his high school coaches at Central, head coach Tally Johnson and assistant Dicky May, as being important figures in his development. He said he's "always wanted to be a coach," and he's getting a good start by working under a heralded college coach.

"I'm happy as heck where I'm at and my wife and my daughter, we love this area," O'Rourke said. "But I'd like to be a coordinator one day and a head coach one day. You never know in this business. You've got to be in the right place at the right time. But right now I love it here."

SideBar: THE O'ROURKE FILE

Who: Danny O'Rourke

High school: Central Gwinnett

College: West Georgia

Family: Wife Michelle; daughter Kaeli, 20 months

Noteworthy:

' In sixth season as assistant at Navy

' Had 11-0 record in two seasons as the Midshipmen's head junior varsity coach

' Also was an assistant at Valdosta State and Georgia Southern, where he coached the safeties for the 2000 Division I-AA national title team

' Three-year letter winner as defensive back at West Georgia