COLLEGE PARK -- Four years after he last performed as a battering ram for Elkton High's Golden Elks, Larry Webster is still big news in Cecil County.
Mention the name to the switchboard operator at his alma mater and she instantly recalls the first time she saw him. Webster was a freshman then, but he was so big she thought he had to be a senior.
Mention the name to his old football coach and a telephone conversation quickly becomes a singing telegram. Ed Langan can't say enough nice things about his former fullback and defensive tackle.
"The most talented player we had," said Langan, athletic director at Elkton now but no longer a football coach. "Everything we did we built around him. We were 6-3 that year and we won six games because of Larry . . . We never had anyone with the potential of Larry."
Webster took that potential to the University of Maryland in 1987, where he spent one season as a redshirt prodigy and two more carving out a reputation as an up-and-coming Atlantic Coast Conference star.
Tomorrow afternoon in Memorial Stadium, Webster, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound anchor at left defensive tackle, will get the acid test. It will be administered by Clemson All-America Stacy Long, a 6-2, 275-pound right tackle. Long set a school record with 69 knockdown blocks last season when he was named first-team All-America by The Sporting News and third team by the Associated Press.
Webster vs. Long is a matchup made in pigskin heaven. In a game where Maryland will stake its claim as comeback team of 1990, that mano-a-mano could have all sorts of repercussions. If Long proves superior, Clemson's option offense could deep-fry the Terps. If Webster gains the upper hand, Maryland could contemplate a leap into Top 25 consciousness.
With that in mind, Maryland defensive line coach Dennis Murphy met one-on-one with Webster Wednesday morning to supply some additional inspiration. In so many words, Murphy told Webster this was his chance to make a name for himself.
"I demanded that Larry get more physical last week and he responded," Murphy said. "Now he's got to bring it up another level against Stacy Long. If Larry Webster is going to be All-ACC, he must control the line of scrimmage. Stacy Long is an All-ACC performer, he's an All-American, first team in one poll, third in another.
"This is Larry Webster's challenge for recognition."
The challenge was accepted.
"I feel it's important to the team," Webster, 21, said of his matchup. "If I have a good game against Long, it means we can shut down their running game."
In last week's 14-10 upset of 25th-ranked West Virginia, Webster effectively shut down the Mountaineers' offense with a first-half hit on quarterback Greg Jones. Webster hit Jones in the chest as he released a pass. The next contact was Jones' helmet and the artificial turf. Jones wound up sitting on top of Webster ("He didn't know where he was," Webster said) and sat out the second half with a concussion.
It was another in a series of big plays Webster has delivered for the Terps while being constantly double-teamed. Murphy converts statistics on sacks, quarterback hurries, "moves" and tips into one aggregate statistic he calls RBIs, borrowing on the baseball term. After two games, Webster's six "RBIs" rank third on the team behind outside linebackers Jack Bradford (12) and Greg Hines (seven).
At Elkton, Webster was as vital on offense as he was on defense. He rushed for 2,000 yards his last two years for Langan. And on occasion he ran back kickoffs.
"He took quite a pounding at fullback," Langan said. "There were 11 guys keying on him and six guys pounding on him. He had enough speed to break it outside, too. He had three or four runs over 50 yards. On defense, he was intimidating as well. He controlled things on the line of scrimmage. He was much better when they didn't run at him because of his quickness."
Langan remembers Webster's motivation in high school was to make the jump to the college level.
"By the end of his junior year he made up his mind he wanted to get a scholarship, and you could see that in his play," Langan said.
Now Webster's motivation is to help get Maryland to 3-0 for the first time since 1986. A victory over 16th-ranked Clemson would do wonders for Maryland's reputation as well as Webster's.
"Last week we got some recognition against West Virginia," Webster said. "This week will give us more against a top-15 team."