Aug. 18, 1997
Leaner Tailback Carries His Weight for Terrapins
By Nicholas J. Cotsonika Washington Post Staff Writer
His favorite was fried chicken wings at a University of Maryland hot spot called Danny's. Tacos would work, too, or maybe a juicy cheeseburger, oozing with enough saturated fat to sicken an offensive lineman. Hunger has never been a problem for Terrapins senior tailback Buddy Rodgers; but for now, Danny's will have to wait.
Rodgers is hungry for something else. In this new era of Terrapins football, under Coach Ron Vanderlinden, Rodgers and his fellow tailbacks will be the offense's featured, and potentially best, option. With few of last season's top wide receivers returning, no one can afford to be sluggish if the Terrapins are to begin a return to prominence, especially Rodgers.
After Maryland went a disappointing 5-6 last year, Rodgers -- whose season also was less than stellar -- drowned his sorrows in grease. His weight ballooned from 230 pounds to 242, not a promising statistic for a player who stands 5 feet 11 and contributed just 447 yards rushing last season while dealing with a bad hamstring and other nagging injuries.
"He absolutely had to get his weight down," Vanderlinden said. "He needs to be lighter, to be quicker. He needs to be in shape."
For the past three seasons, Rodgers has carried the ball an average of 100 times. But he is sixth in school history with 17 rushing touchdowns and seventh in school history with an average of 4.4 yards per carry. He has an ability to find holes and accelerate through them-the hands to catch, the muscles to block, the brawn to gain tough yards.
This winter, however, he had girth, too.
So for a few agonizing months, he traded his lard for lettuce, tacos for tofu and his beloved wings for wins. "It's all about winning," said Rodgers, a Parade high school all-American in 1994 as a senior at East Providence High School in Rhode Island. "I had to be self-disciplined, staying away from bad food and not eating late at night like I used to. I realized that it wasn't worth the pleasure of eating if we were losing."
Rodgers ran extra miles after his normal training routines. He ate broccoli. He wrinkled his nose and his stomach rumbled, but he now weighs 219 pounds. Vanderlinden said he is excited to "see Buddy has come into camp in shape. That means a lot."
Vanderlinden said he plans to firmly establish the running game this season, and without a strong corps of fullbacks, that means Rodgers, senior Brian Underwood, sophomore Harold Westley and others -- possibly including freshman Lamont Jordan -- will have to contribute.
Underwood nipped Rodgers for the team lead in rushing last season, 449 yards to 447, and Westley added 421. And each had his individual highlights. Underwood gained 80 yards on 14 carries against Clemson. Westley was named ACC rookie of the week for his performance against Wake Forest, in which he gained 120 yards-a school record for freshmen-on just 11 carries.
But Rodgers had the biggest game of all, when he followed a 106-yard game against Wake Forest with a 176-yard game against Duke. He also rushed for 718 yards as a sophomore, the most by a Maryland runner since Alvin Blount had 828 in 1985.
He should be a major part of an offense that will pride itself on being relentless. Part of the reason he was so motivated to lose weight was Vanderlinden's edict that has not been cliche at Maryland: If at first you don't succeed, try again.
"In the past, it seemed if a play didn't work the first time, we didn't try it again until the fourth quarter or the next game," Rodgers said. "The coaches seem to have a little more faith in us now. With this team, we're determined to make it work. We're going to practice that play, and if it doesn't work, we're going to run it again, more and more until we get it right."
Terrapins Notes: Junior linebacker Eric Barton and several of his teammates took some extra initiative during training this offseason. Working independently in seven-on-seven practices is common, but Barton and his teammates traveled to Howard University on occasion for some competition against the Bison. Linebackers coach Chris Cosh said he had never heard of players doing such a thing, but Barton said it made sense. "It's boring going against your own guys," he said. "We wanted to add some bitterness and some fire, and they gave it to us." ...
Freshman defensive back Tony Jackson, also an exceptional offensive player at Wilde Lake High School in Ellicott City, said he will compete in baseball for the Terrapins if his grades are high enough. He has set his personal standard as a 2.5 grade-point average. "Anything below that," Jackson said, "is unacceptable."