COLLEGE PARK -- When Scott Zolak was growing up in Monongahela, Pa., folks filled his head with Penn State lore. The Nittany Lions were, as he says, the "backbone" of college football in the state.
Little has changed, except that Zolak is no longer growing up. He is the fully grown, 6-foot-5 quarterback who will lead Maryland Saturday against the team that is still the giant of Pennsylvania football.
Zolak is one of 30 players from Pennsylvania on the Terps' squad. They have no hard feelings against their home state team, although some were spurned by coach Joe Paterno's recruiters, but they think it is high time they beat the Lions.
Until they forged a 13-13 tie last year, the Terps had lost 24 straight times. What galls them is that, in recent years, the rivalry has been so close, yet always they come up empty. The last five defeats before the tie were by a total of 17 points.
"I've been looking forward to this ever since I've been here," said Zolak, a fifth-year senior who's in his first year as a starter. "This is a big-time college Saturday. I want to do well, my best of the year. About 50 of my friends and family will be there."
Penn State recruited Zolak "pretty hard," actually offering him a scholarship. But the Lions' interest in him cooled after they signed Tom Bill and Zolak switched his attention to Miami and Maryland.
Like most of the Terps players from Pennsylvania, junior free safety Mike Thomas regards the game as the most important of the year. "It's for bragging rights," the Philadelphian said. "It's like a bowl game to me."
Said offensive guard Ken Oberle of Pittsburgh, "You either love 'em or hate 'em. I used to like them when I was young, but not anymore."
Glenn Page, a linebacker from Pittsburgh and Maryland's leading tackler this year, was, like Zolak, recruited heavily by Penn State. He became sold on Maryland because then-coach Bobby Ross "was a great guy and I was comfortable with the guys from Pennsylvania who were coming here."
Early this season, Page's best friend went with his girlfriend to watch Maryland play at West Virginia. After that one, the Terps were 2-0 and Penn State was 0-2 after bowing to Texas and Southern Cal.
"My friend's girl graduated from Penn State," Page said. "Football that weekend was a touchy subject for her. She didn't want to talk about it."
Sophomore Mike Hopson, Maryland's punt returner and reserve cornerback, was recruited by Penn State out of Radnor in suburban Philly. Once the Lions coaches saw him, however, and realized he was only 5-6, they told him he was too short.
"I never got that attached to them, anyway, because I heard they jerked players around, moving them from position to position," Hopson said. "This is my first shot at Penn State. I'm really excited. I get sick of hearing about Penn State from their fans."
Scott Rosen, a junior cornerback from Philadelphia, appreciates the intensity of the Maryland-Penn State rivalry, but is still frustrated by last year's tie.
"We totally outplayed them," Rosen said. "There were some bad calls. I intercepted a pass, but it was called back and I was nailed for interference. A pass to Barry Johnson was good, but the officials said it was incomplete because he was out of bounds.