South River Grad Is Centerpiece Of Md. Football Team

Suplee's Photo Graces School's Media Guide

August 29, 1991|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,Staff writer

A colorful, framed photo of Mitch Suplee Jr. hangs on a wall in a far corner of the University of Maryland's sports information office.

His fist is thrust high in the air, and his jersey, No. 76, is stretched across his 6-foot-4, 265-pound body.

"I found out about it this summer," said Suplee, a 1987 South River graduate, now the center for the Terrapins' football team.

Suplee will grace the cover of the school's Game Day media guide when theTerps face the University of Virginia on Sept. 7.

"I've been waiting to see what it looks like. Everybody tells me it's a real nice shot, but I'm sure I'm going to take a lot of ribbing from my teammates-- 'cover boy,' things like that."

In one of football's most thankless positions, Suplee, a senior, finally is getting the recognitionhe deserves. The sole offensive lineman with more than a year of experience as a starter, Suplee was voted one of the Terps' tri-captainsby his teammates.

"That was a huge, tremendous honor, to think that my teammates respect me that much," said Suplee, 22, who was perfect on all of his long snaps on special teams as a sophomore and as a junior.

He remains the only lineman ever to be chosen the Anne Arundel County Sun's Player of the Year, an honor he achieved as a senior, when he led the Seahawks to an 8-2 record in his third consecutiveyear as a starter.

Suplee is hoping to enjoy similar success in his final season at


Last year's 6-5-1 season, the Terps' first winning season in five years, came against a schedule rated No. 1 in the country. It included six bowl teams and six Top 20 opponents, with the last four games being played on the road.

So why has Suplee, an offensive player, spent so much time on the defensive?

"People are always criticizing our offensive line, but they're detached from the situation," he said.

One of the most recent snipes came from Sports Illustrated in its annual college football preview Aug. 26.

The magazine dedicated only 61 unflattering words -- all aimed at the Terps' offensive line -- as its coverage of Maryland's team. The commentary mentions how former quarterback Scott Zolak, now with the New England Patriots, was sacked 40 times, and how his replacement, Jim Sandwisch, can expect more of the same this year.

It doesn't help that starting left guard Dave deBruin (knee injury) and hisbackup, Kevin Arline (intestinal infection) -- both juniors -- are questionable for the season-opener.

"I'm working with people I wouldn't normally be working with. But deBruin's arthroscopic exam was a good one, and he told me last night that he should be back by Monday," said Suplee, who bench-presses 380 pounds.

"These things happen,and I think there's going to be pressure at first. There wouldn't beanyone in College Park that would be happier to have deBruin back inthe lineup than me. But people will start to see us develop as a football power in a few weeks."

Suplee lives by the credo, "Tough times never last, but tough people do."

He learned life could be tough at just 4 years old, when his father, Mitch Sr., died in a motel fire. Once an All-State linebacker at a high school in Pennsylvania, Mitch Sr. remains an inspiration.

"My father . . . I think about himevery day," Suplee said. "His death was tough, but fortunately, whenI was growing up, I had some coaches who realized what the situationwas. They took me under their wing and gave me guidance."

When hewas 7, Suplee and his mother, Carol, moved to Oklahoma and then to New Hampshire. He participated mostly in basketball and baseball, because he was often too big for rec football programs.

"I played football one year when I was 11 living in Oklahoma, where they had a roster exemption for three players who could weigh as much as they wantedto," Suplee said. "I weighed about 150 pounds when I was 12 in New Hampshire. I played because I made the weight limit there."

All thewhile, he was thinking of his father.

"There were some other guys' fathers who treated me like their own son," he said. "But the hardest time was in youth league when you had father-and-son games. I didn't have anyone to participate with.

"I get over it now, but I sometimes wonder what life would be like if he was still here."

Mitch Sr. would be proud of the young man former Seahawks coach Joe Papetticalled "the best lineman South River ever had."

"I didn't get to play football in seventh or eighth grade, so ninth grade was my firstserious year of football," Suplee said. "When I got to high school, I was lost at first and just a big kid out there. Coach Papetti had to show me how to put my pads in my pants."

As a sophomore, Suplee endured a baptism of fire.

"I worked against two players, Tim Brooks (who later attended the University of North Carolina) and Mike McElhenny (Northeastern University)," said Suplee, also a two-year starting center on the Seahawks' basketball squad.

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