COLLEGE PARK -- Michael Jarmolowich has heard the stories about the struggle his grandfather and father endured 40 years ago trying to get from Poland to the United States. He has also watched his father work 80 hours a week as a floor installer in north New Jersey, only taking time off to watch his son play football.
That's why Jarmolowich knows only one way to play football.
"The hard way, that's the only way I've been taught since I was a young kid," said Jarmolowich of his father, Alex. "I've learned a lot from him, seeing him get up at 7 in the morning, and not home until 8 or 9 at night. His father wanted him to have a better life than his. My father wants me to have a better life than his, and I'll try to do the same for my children. To be good or the best at something, you've got to put in the time."
Jarmolowich, a 6-foot-2, 233-pound junior inside linebacker, has worked his way into the starting lineup for the Terps this season and is one of the few bright spots on a defense that has not lived up to its potential.
As Maryland (2-4 overall, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepares for tomorrow's 1:30 p.m. homecoming game against Duke (3-1, 0-1), Jarmolowich leads the conference in tackles with 81, including 17 against Syracuse and 18 at Wake Forest.
He has been honored as the ACC Defensive Back of the Week three times, and his name is being mentioned with the likes of Kevin Walker and Richie Petitbon as one of the best linebackers in Maryland history.
"Physically and athletically, he's not as good as an athlete as those two guys," said Maryland coach Joe Krivak. "When you talk about effort and heart, he may be a step above."
Determination and the Terps' willingness to take a chance is what brought Jarmolowich to Maryland. Jarmolowich was a 6-2, 195-pound wide receiver and linebacker for Union High's New Jersey state championship team.
But not one college team recruited him, even though Tennessee recommended that he play at Fork Union Military Academy. College scouts told Jarmolowich he was too slow to be a receiver and too small to play linebacker in major college football.
Reluctantly, Jarmolowich played for Fork Union, which seems to have left him somewhat bitter, but at the same time, got him
"My father said there wasn't much other opportunity, so off I went," said Jarmolowich. "At my high school, if you were not a standout, the coach really didn't push you. Some people also said I had a bad attitude. But I really wanted to go to a major college, play football and make my father proud.
"It was different at Fork Union," said Jarmolowich, laughing. "They take your clothes and give you uniforms. There's all these little kids, ninth- and 10th-graders, giving you orders. There were no girls and only three roads. It was like a hole in the ground."
Fork Union, though, had become a regular recruiting stop for Maryland, and inside linebackers coach George Foussekis was impressed with Jarmolowich.
"Even then, you could see he was mobile and had good range," said Foussekis. "Most importantly, he had toughness and gave effort. That's two of the most important in gredients. We always knew he would get bigger. And Mike made himself get much bigger."
Jarmolowich redshirted in 1988, played sparingly in 1989, and rotated with starters Glenn Page and Scott Whittier last season. He was the team's third-leading tackler with 82.
This season, Jarmolowich has shared the spotlight with no one. He has been reckless, hurling his body into opposing ball carriers. He also plays pass defense well, able to drop deep into zone coverages. And he is always around the ball, indicated by his three recovered fumbles.
"He's a student of the game," said Foussekis. "He's out there calling signals, leading others, and he just doesn't make many mistakes. Mike is a good ballplayer because he wants to be a good ballplayer."
Jarmolowich bench-presses 335 pounds, squats 550 and power cleans 300. But the weight is nothing compared to the pressure he puts on himself.
"When he plays a bad game, he's like a little puppy dog," said Foussekis. "It's no secret that Mike is inspired by his father. I've nTC run into his father a lot of times after games, and each time he thanks me for giving his son an opportunity to play and go to school. You don't hear that often from other parents."
Jarmolowich said: "I've always wanted to prove to those people who said I couldn't play that they were wrong. I don't want anybody doubting me. You know, when I graduate, I'll be the first person in my family to get a college degree. My father will be happy about that. And when I don't play well, I feel like I'm letting my father down. I don't want that to happen."
NOTE: Starting senior DT Lubo Zizakovic (neck injury) is available to play tomorrow, but will not start. Reserve DB Andre Vaughn (knee), reserve DB Mike Hopson (ankle) and starting G Kevin Arline (knee) will not play.