Jim Hyson had just 18 teammates on the varsity football team during his senior year at Francis Scott Key High in 1977.
A state heavyweight wrestling champion and state discus and shot put champ in track and field his senior year, the Union Bridge native was content with following in older brother Bill's footsteps by attending Frostburg State -- hoping to play all three sports.
Things didn't quite work out that way. Hyson got the opportunity -- and took advantage of it -- to play Division I football at the University of Virginia.
Getting there wasn't the biggest surprise -- it was how he got there.
"I was not heavily recruited in football my senior year, (but) more so in track and field," said the 31-year-old Hyson, now a construction loan officer for Investors' Savings Bankin Lynchburg, Va.
"They found out about me in a roundabout way. VMI (Virginia Military Institute) was recruiting a kid out of Middletown (High in Frederick County) and the game film they had was against us. They saw me on the film and offered me a scholarship, but I wasn't interested in a military career.
"I turned them down and they passed (the game film) on to (Virginia) and they offered me a full ride."
The Virginia coach at the time was Dick Bestwick, now associateathletic director at the University of Georgia.
"We ran into him by mistake," Bestwick said. "After, I remember going up to his house to meet him, and the minute I saw him I thought we had to sign this kid. If I remember correctly, he signed that night."
So there he was. One year at a small high school in the Monocacy Valley Athletic League with barely enough players to field a team to playing for a major college team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"I can still remember running out on the field in my first game . . . against Wake Forest and looking up in the stands and seeing 35,000, 40,000 fans," Hyson recalled. "It was unbelievable. I still feel that same feeling when I think about it now. It was something I just couldn't imagine coming from a high school team with only 19 players."
After sitting out his freshman year as a red-shirt, Hyson started out playing linebacker the next two years and, at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, moved to defensive tackle for his last two years. He earned four varsity letters.
"He was an outstanding athlete and played well at both spots for us. He was a heck of a competitor and played very, very hard every down,"said Bestwick, who coached Hyson's first three years before steppingdown and being replaced by current coach George Welsh.
"In addition to being an outstanding football player, he also was an outstanding young man."
Unlike the success they've had in recent years, the Virginia program endured some lean years during Hyson's playing days.
"The five years I was there Virginia won a total of 16 games," Hyson said.
"It was a little frustrating putting your blood and gutsinto something for five years and never reaching the level you wouldlike."
It got so bad in his junior year, Bestwick's last, that Hyson seriously thought about not returning to the football team for his senior year.
"We went 1-10 my junior year. After the last game, I walked into the locker room and decided I didn't want to come back for a fifth year. I was busting my butt with nothing to show for it,"he said.
In January of his final year, Hyson had knee surgery from an injury he had played with during that junior year. With a new coach coming in, he was concerned there wasn't room for a fifth-year senior in the program. Welsh assured him there was, and he enjoyed another solid season.
"Any kid who has the opportunity to play at a major level like that -- whether it be football, basketball or whatever-- they should take full advantage of it and enjoy it," he said.
"Take it all in while you can."
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in English, Hyson worked as a graduate assistant football coach at Mississippi State and had a tryout with the Oklahoma Outlaws of the now-
defunct U.S. Football League.
"Any kid at that level would tell you playing professionally was a goal. I hadmy shot and did the best I could, and I'm happy with that," he said.
Married and employed at Investors' Banking since 1985, Hyson remains active, playing softball and basketball while getting a differentperspective on football as a high school referee.
"I had an itching to somehow stay in the sport, so I figured I'd officiate after yelling at refs all those years. I've been on the other side of the whistle for three years," he said.
"It's been fun."