Terps' Webster in clash of titans Defensive tackle is prepared for Michigan's giant Skrepenak

September 28, 1990|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- Greg Skrepenak is 6 feet 8, weighs 322 pounds, wears a size 17 EEEE shoe, has a 50-inch chest and wears short-sleeved shirts rather than search for a length that fits. He's a two-time All-Big Ten choice at offensive tackle and the biggest man ever to wear a University of Michigan uniform.

Maryland defensive star Larry Webster's job: control Skrepenak, then find the player with the ball.

Tough orders, but not impossible. Webster has faced similar challenges. As the University of Maryland's starting left defensive tackle, Webster usually plays against the opposition's strongest offensive tackle because most teams have right-handed quarterbacks and, thus, a tendency to run to the right.

The list of big-name offensive tackles includes West Virginia's John Ray and Clemson's Stacy Long, an All-American.

But tomorrow, when Maryland (3-1) plays No. 6 Michigan (1-1) at Michigan Stadium (1 p.m.), Webster will face Skrepenak, whom he considers the ultimate challenge.

"He's got the height, the weight, moves well and is good on both the pass and the run," said Webster. "On film, he has stayed with his blocks 10 yards down the field.

"He's got all the ability of Stacy Long, but just comes in a bigger version. It's going to be a challenge, and I like it. Playing against the best, or getting double-teamed, is now part of the game every week."

Webster, a junior from Elkton High, is no munchkin.

He's 6-5, 277 pounds and generally is considered the best defensive tackle to attend Maryland since Randy White left in 1974.

To date, Webster is 2-0 against the big boys.

"It will be an interesting matchup," Michigan coach Gary Moeller said.

Skrepenak, a junior from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., came to Michigan with a reputation as an outstanding run-blocker, but he also had an appetite that then-coach Bo Schembechler thought might cost him a career with the Wolverines. As a freshman, he reported to summer camp weighing 350 pounds, prompting Schembechler to make him run a penalty mile each day at 6 a.m. during two-a-day practices.

Skrepenak was so big that fellow players called him "The Barge." He had to be weighed daily at a local moving and storage company.

He didn't lose the weight until recently, dropping nearly 30 pounds in the off-season, but he still was named to all-conference teams in 1988 and 1989.

Imagine the kind of season he is having this year?

"He has, on occasion, caved in the whole side of a defensive line," Jerry Hanlon, Michigan's offensive line coach, said of Skrepenak, who considered playing in the National Football League after last season.

Besides his mobility -- Skrepenak scored 20.8 points a game as a center on his high school basketball team -- Maryland defensive line coach Dennis Murphy also has noticed a mean streak.

"He has improved his run-blocking ability and is coming off the ball a lot harder than a year ago," said Murphy. "Sometimes, he just throws people around. When he knocks them into the turf or when they're down, he'll bore a helmet right into their back."

Webster has heard this tough talk before. It started just before he was to face Ray, 6-10 and 345 pounds. Webster had only three unassisted tackles against West Virginia, but he made the Mountaineers run left most of the game. He also put quarterback Greg Jones out of the game in the second quarter on a near sack.

Webster dominated Long, 6-2, 275 pounds, finishing with 11 tackles. For the year, Webster has 30 tackles, but only one sack. The sack figure, though, is misleading.

"Larry is very good at stopping the run despite the double-teaming," said Murphy. "He has not produced as much on the pass rush, but his presence is known. You ask Greg Jones. That hit made West Virginia change its entire offense.

"Larry is not a mean player; he just produces," Murphy said. "A couple of weeks ago, when he wanted to make a name for himself, he rose to the occasion against Long. Now, this is just another step in his quest to be a nationally recognized ballplayer."

Webster was Maryland's best defensive player last season, when he totaled 54 tackles (despite missing two games with a broken foot) and was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference second team, escaping the shadow of former Maryland tackle Warren Powers (6-8, 277), who was drafted in the second round by the Denver Broncos after the 1988 season. Webster graded out at 80 percent or better in six games and better than 90 percent in the other three.

A lot of comparisons still are made between Powers and Webster because of their size and speed, but when it comes to sheer strength, Webster is far ahead. He runs the 40-yard -- in 4.97 seconds and bench-presses 345 pounds and squats 657 pounds.

4 Unlike Skrepenak, his body has more muscle tone.

"He's just a physically gifted athlete," said Scott Whittier, Maryland's starting inside linebacker. "He's the kind of player that opposing coaches look at every week and say, 'We we have to contain him to be successful.'

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