COLLEGE PARK -- "The Droz" is back. Bigger. Faster. Crazier. Sporting wilder haircuts.
And his back feels pretty good, too.
The last time Darren Drozdov played a football game for the University of Maryland was 1989. He was a sophomore with a Mohawk then and a promising defensive lineman in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He constantly graded out in the 80th percentile, and he ended the season with 39 unassisted tackles, 23 assisted and three sacks.
He also finished with several back braces, a cupboard full of Ben-Gay and a ruptured disk that caused numbness in his left leg.
"I don't really know how he made it through that season," said Maryland senior defensive tackle Lubo Zizakovic. "He was hurting after every practice and game. There were times he would be in games swearing, moaning, and the only thing we could do was offer him words of encouragement."
After surgery in the spring of 1990 and nearly a year and a half out of the game, Drozdov, a junior, is challenging All-America candidate Larry Webster at left tackle. Drozdov has had very little pain and an impressive camp.
"I feel pretty good," Drozdov said. "It takes me a little while into the practice to get loosened up, but after that I have very little discomfort. Hey, I'm a little sore at night, but nothing like the pain I had almost two years ago."
Maryland defensive line coach Dennis Murphy said: "Droz has always been a player who moved well, and so far he doesn't seem to have any rust as far as technique. He made one play today that was incredible, and it showed that he still gets off blocks well. And that's what you need to play defense. I think he has gone out of his way to show everyone he has improved, even though he hasn't played in a while."
Drozdov said the injury, incurred during the tail end of his freshman year, didn't affect him until the start of the 1989 season. Maryland team trainer J. J. Bush first tried treating the injury with anti-inflammatory medication and stretching exercises, but that failed, and Drozdov was sent to a neurosurgeon, who eventually removed the disk.
Drozdov practiced this spring but had some pain because he still has two bulging disks. But during the summer he started working out on a treadmill and riding a stationary cycle. Maryland head coach Joe Krivak also has Drozdov just working out in the morning session (no short-yardage contact) of two-a-day practices allowing him to swim and ride the cycle (20 miles) during the afternoon session.
"We don't feel there is any more damage he can do by playing," Bush said. "So far, the program has worked out pretty well."
Now the Terps are just hoping the 6-foot-4, 269-pound player can do some damage on the field. He has added 10 to 15 pounds since the 1989 season, and he works exceedingly hard in the weight room.
And no one ever has questioned Drozdov's athletic ability. He was a two-time all-conference quarterback (an option quarterback, no less) and all-conference hurdler (15.1 in the 110 high hurdles) at Oakcrest High in New Jersey.
"I used to line up in my lane, and the guy next to me used to say, 'Yo, the shot-put area is over there," said Drozdov, smiling. "He didn't think I could do it.
"I thought I had a pretty good season despite playing hurt two years ago, so I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do when I'm healthy. I'm pumped."
Drozdov always is pumped for games. Maybe a little too much. He has a reputation for throwing up before games and practices.
Listen to this story:
"I usually barf right before the pre-game speech by the coach," Drozdov said. "Or when it happens during the game, I usually put my hand up, and the coach gets me out for a play. Well, two years ago, we were playing West Virginia, and I didn't get my hand up on time. I could feel it coming, so I held it until the center snapped the ball. I locked onto the guy playing over me and threw up right on his face shield. He didn't try to block me; he just tried to run away. I held onto him, and he was screaming all over the place. I found it all kind of amusing."
There are some who don't.
"I've seen him line up over the ball in practice when he was playing nose guard, and he would just let it go over the ball," Zizakovic said. "The center would refuse to snap the ball."
Drozdov is also noted for his eccentric haircuts. One day it's a Mohawk. The next day it's a crew cut. Another day he's bald, complete with earrings.
"He just takes great pleasure in looking different. Sometimes you look at Droz and you think he's from another planet," Murphy said. "Actually, he's doesn't get into trouble, and, basically, he's just another kid."
Well, what about the 7-foot, 25-pound red-tailed boa constrictor he has in his dorm room? And wasn't this the guy who had to attend Fork Union Military Academy because a lot of recruiters considered him uncoachable?