Webster is BIG key for Terps

August 28, 1991|By Doug BrownJed Kirschbaum -- Evening Sun Staff | Doug BrownJed Kirschbaum -- Evening Sun Staff,Evening Sun Staff

COLLEGE PARK -- When Larry Webster thinks of the few negatives in a football season that signaled Maryland was on the rise again, obscene scores come to mind.

The Terps gave up 45 points to Michigan, 31 to Georgia Tech, 34 to North Carolina and 24 to Penn State. Losses to those teams were the principal blotches on Maryland's 6-5-1 record last season.

"We've got to cut down on the opponents' passing game," Webster said. "We gave up some big plays last year. Myself, I've got to put more pressure on the quarterback. Defense is a team effort, although I might be noticed more."

Larry Webster is noticed more because he is 6 feet 5 1/2 and 280 pounds. A senior defensive tackle from Elkton, he is probably Maryland's leading candidate for postseason honors. Webster is the anchor of a unit that will get a chance to prove its worth the instant the season opens here a week from Saturday against Virginia.

Webster didn't think he would come this far in football. His start was delayed two years when he underwent two skin grafts after lawn mower gas spilled on his right leg and caught fire.

"I finally started playing in eighth grade, but I was a sorry thing, timid, a momma's boy," Webster said. "I overcame that a year later when I got hit hard once and realized I'd better start hitting back."

At Elkton High, Webster was a defensive tackle and fullback. The only Division I-A schools who wooed him were Temple and Maryland, and the Terps envisioned him as a tight end.

Webster fancied himself as the second coming of Ferrell Edmunds, the Maryland tight end who is now a holdout with the Miami Dolphins. Webster was 6-4 then, 238 pounds.

"The first day of practice they put me on the defensive line and I've never been on the other side of the ball since," Webster said. "They figured since I hadn't done much with weights in high school that I'd bulk up and gain.

"I thought I was big when I got here until I looked at the people around me. I was scared when I first got on the field."

Redshirted as a freshman in 1987, Webster didn't truly announce his arrival until late October of 1988 when he made nine tackles against North Carolina. He has been a force ever since, with yearly tackle totals of 49, 54 and 75.

One publication, Football News, makes him a preseason second-team All-America selection this year. The Sporting News lists him among the nation's best defensive linemen.

"I didn't think I'd be this good," Webster said. "I didn't believe I could play at the Division I-A level. But I still want to graduate because there's no way of telling if I'll make it in the NFL."

A criminal justice major, Webster is on schedule to graduate in five years next spring. His inspiration is his grandfather, Harold Gray, a policeman for more than 25 years in Oxford, Pa.

"I can see working at the local level for two or three years," Webster said. "Then maybe I could get into the FBI, the Secret Service and become a U.S. marshal."

The most difficult football opponent he has encountered is Greg Skrepenak, Michigan's 6-6, 322-pound All-America offensive tackle. Matched against Skrepenak last year, Webster made six tackles, caused a fumble and tipped a pass.

"The key for me against big guys like that is to use my leg strength," Webster said. "That's my base. I squat [lift] 700 pounds -- the record on this team."

His next monster opponent will be Ray Roberts. The Virginia offensive tackle goes 6-6, 300, and is coming off a season when he was named to the Atlantic Coast Conference first team -- an honor that eluded Webster in 1990. This season, Webster will try to prove that was an oversight.

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