Titans face off for Md., W.Va.

WEBSTER-RAY III

September 20, 1991|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- It will be the biggest game within a game when West Virginia meets Maryland tomorrow at Byrd Stadium. It's stud vs. stud. Strongman against Mountain man. It's the rubber match: Webster-Ray III.

"I would pay money just to watch this matchup if I were a fan," said Dennis Murphy, the University of Maryland's defensive line coach, of the 4 p.m. showdown. "It's going to be entertaining. Let the fans be the judge of bull vs. bull."

Maryland's defensive strongman is senior Larry Webster, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound All-American candidate whose muscular body looks like it was sculptured by the football gods. His opponent at offensive tackle is John Ray, a 6-foot-10, 335-pound colossus, who gobbles up the opposition as fast as he eats hamburgers.

They need no introductions. They have tangled twice before, and by their accounts, both tussles ended in draws, and a lot of mutual respect.

Webster: "He gets my respect more every time we play. He's probably the best I'll face all year. He's a massive individual and he's got a fair amount of quickness. I look forward to the challenge, playing against someone bigger than me. No one has to pump me up to play against him."

Ray: "People are always asking me who is the toughest guy I play against. It's Webster, without question. He's one hell of an athlete. What adds to this matchup even more is that we're both seniors and wanting to play in the NFL. We both want to impress the scouts, and we know they're going to be watching."

Webster and Ray have traveled similar routes to reach this battle of the Goliaths. Both were tremendous athletes in high school and found it hard to make the transition to college. Both are mild-mannered individuals who always have been huge. And both still have a hard time finding clothes.

"Oh, I just kept wearing the same clothes for a long time because it was tough trying to find them in the country," said Webster, a native of Elkton. "It's a little easier now, being close to D.C. I know Ray has trouble. He's much bigger than me."

Webster always has been a man-child. He was a standout basketball player and fullback and defensive tackle in high school. He ran for more than 2,000 yards at Elkton High and had visions of being a tight end when he came to Maryland.

But the Terps' coaching staff had other ideas, especially when they saw Webster was already 6 feet 4, 238 pounds and had a size 15 shoe.

"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."

He did.

And Ray is no stiff, either. He was a 6-7, 280-pound Parade High School All-American football player at George Washington High in Charleston, W.Va., as well as an outstanding basketball player. So good, in fact, that he was recruited by North Carolina's Dean Smith.

"I went to that Garfinkel Five Star camp, and J. R. Reid was on my team," said Ray. "Those cats could handle a ball. Reid played point guard. There was no way I was going to play against those guys. That's when I say, whoa, try football."

Ray got pushed around the first year at West Virginia but then discovered the weight room. He has started the last two seasons and is considered by several national publications as one of the top 10 tackles in the country.

"There aren't many people who have a better player than John Ray," said Don Nehlen, West Virginia's coach. "He can be a tower of strength."

Webster has been Maryland's best down lineman for the past two years, with 54 tackles in 1989 and 75 last year. He usually plays against the opposition's strongest offensive tackle because most teams have right-handed quarterbacks and, thus, a tendency to run to the right.

But despite great efforts against Michigan's all-world tackle Greg Skrepenak (six tackles) and Clemson's Stacy Long (11 tackles), skeptics questioned Webster's intensity.

No one is questioning Webster's intensity any longer. He has 12 tackles in two games this season, including one sack, three for minus-9 yards and five moves (forcing the quarterback out of intended throwing area).

And that's while being consistently double-teamed.

"Larry has been like a man on a mission," said Muprhy. "He's obsessed with being the best he can be. The desire is there. He plays like he practices."

Webster, though, has relied more on finesse than being physical. He's great against the run, but needs to improve on his pass rush.

Ray is also outstanding on the run, and his size makes it almost impossible to pass rush around him. But even Ray admits, he needs to improve on his foot speed, and lose about 20 more pounds.

"He's not the type of guy that uses much finesse, he just overpowers people," said Webster of Ray. "I've never had the stats that I really wanted against him. For the first couple of series, I'm going to feel him out, see what he's trying to do and then go from there whether I'll use power or finesse."

Ray said: "With most guys, when I get into them, I can get them running and then smash them or whatever. With Webster, even when I get into him and get him running, he has incredible leg strength and can still throw you. With both of us, we understand the challenge. Hell, if you're going to fear somebody, you're in the wrong sport. After it's all over, I'll probably go shake his hand. His probably just a big, old nice guy like me."

Tale of the tape

. .. .. .. Larry.. .. .. John

.. .. .. .. .. Webster .. .. Ray

Height.. .. .. 6-5. .. .. .. 6-10

Weight.. .. .. 270. .. .. .. 335

Neck. .. .. .. 20.. .. .. .. 21

Waist .. .. .. 40.. .. .. .. 46

Shoe. .. .. .. 15.. .. .. .. 17 1/2

Shirt .. .. .. XXL. .. .. .. XXXL

Bench press .. 385. .. .. .. 440

Squat .. .. .. 700. .. .. .. 700

40 yards .. ..4.95. .. .. .. 5.4

Vertical leap. 31 1/2 . .. .. .. 28

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