COLLEGE PARK -- It is unclear at this early stage whether there truly is a battle for Maryland's starting quarterback job.
Some signs point to fifth-year senior but untested Jim Sandwisch as No. 1. Junior college transfer John Kaleo says he hopes the coaches will keep their minds open these next three weeks before the Sept. 7 opener against Virginia. Redshirt freshman Tony Scarpino feels he will one day take the helm, although he acknowledges he still has some growing up to do.
Coach Joe Krivak is guarded on the subject. Asked how secure Sandwisch is as No. 1, Krivak replied cryptically, "About as secure as the national debt and the trade deficit."
What Krivak really meant was this: "Out of those three we'll pick two. Then we'll get two ready for each game."
For at least the moment, list the successors to Scott Zolak (now with the New England Patriots) in this order: Sandwisch, Kaleo, Scarpino.
Sandwisch, 6 feet 3, 197, arrived from Great Mills High on the southern tip of Maryland in 1987 as a walk-on. Awarded a scholarship last fall, he held for extra point and field goal attempts and played sparingly as Zolak's backup.
"I didn't get discouraged, waiting my turn," Sandwisch said. "I beat out some scholarship quarterbacks along the way. I was VTC ready to come back here in May, I was so excited."
Kaleo, 5-11, 180, went to Bowie-South River High and then to Montgomery-Rockville Junior College.
Last season he led Montgomery-Rockville to the national JUCO championship game, where it lost to Coffeyville JC of Kansas, and was named National Junior College Player of the Year.
"Jim is the bossman, I'm the vice president," Kaleo said. "I want to be in his shoes. It would be unfair if the coaches called the battle off now. Anything can happen in two or three weeks. I think I can change the coaches' minds."
Scarpino, 6-3, 211, came out of Monroeville, Pa., and chose Maryland over Pitt. He spent all of last season here running the upcoming opponent's offense for the varsity. He feels he has the talent, but has to acquire a feel for the offense.
"My hope this year is to get some playing time," Scarpino said. I'm sure Jim will start, and he deserves to. But going into next spring, when he's gone, I hope I'll be the starter, and for three years after that."
Maryland is coming off its first winning season (6-5-1) since 1985, and improving on that may be difficult with an unproven quarterback.
"Sandwisch is very inexperienced, yes, but he's head and shoulders above everyone else in knowledge of the offense," quarterbacks coach Jerry Eisaman said. "He's the starter."
Eisaman rates the three quarterbacks' arms this way: Sandwisch, Scarpino and Kaleo. He points out that the election by the squad of Sandwisch as a co-captain (with center Mitch Suplee and cornerback Scott Rosen) indicates the players feel he can move the team.
"He reads defenses well," Eisaman said. "He has paid the price by spending extra time watching films. Although his arm isn't as strong as Zolak's, he can throw deep. He gives us another dimension with his ability to sprint out."
The bottom line, in Eisaman's opinion, is the X factor. How does the team respond to Sandwisch's leadership?
"That's the biggest thing," Eisaman said. "Jim showed in the spring he can march the team."