COLLEGE PARK -- When Mitch Suplee arrived at Maryland in 1987, word of his living quarters as a senior at South River (Md.) High had preceded him.
"Oh, you're the guy who lived on a boat," his new teammates said.
It was no joke. Every coach has a recruiting tale and Joe Krivak had his after arriving for his visit. Suplee was living by himself on a houseboat in a marina in Edgewater rented for $300 a month by his mother, Carol. She worked at the marina and lived three blocks away with her boyfriend.
"I was surprised," Krivak said of his three-year starting center and co-captain. "Mitch came from a pretty tough situation. It's amazing how well some kids do. Environment is a factor, sure, but so is parental love, which Mitch had."
Suplee was and still is close to his mother. But he found it difficult to remain focused on his grades and football when he "was in the middle of things" during "family problems," including disagreements between his mother and her boyfriend.
"I needed to keep my mind on my goal -- a college scholarship," Suplee said. "It wasn't a productive environment. The houseboat was beneficial, and I'd do it again. I really liked it.
"I had a TV and a phone, and Mom was only three blocks away. I had friends in sometimes and had an occasional party, but I think I impressed the coaches that I was on the right track with no one watching over me. I got up for school and did my homework. People always knew where I was and where I was supposed to be."
Suplee got a rocky start in life. After his father died when he was 4, his mother struggled to support Mitch and his younger brother, Ryan. Several years later their house burned down.
In his senior year at South River, he hurt his back playing basketball, but he ignored the doctor's advice to rest it because the team was in the playoffs and he was lifting weights in preparation for his first year at Maryland.
On April 23, 1987, he underwent surgery for a ruptured disc for relief from the intense pain shooting down his legs. Three months later to the day, he engaged in the first practice with Maryland prep stars for their Big 33 football game with Pennsylvania.
However, he had ballooned from 225 to 270 during the recuperative period and arrived at Maryland woefully out of shape. Today, he weighs between 265 and 270, "depending on what I had for lunch," but is far stronger and has a body that can accommodate the weight.
As a redshirt freshman in 1988, Suplee won the long snapper job for punts and place kicks and became the starting center the next year when Mark Agent was hurt. He has never missed a game because of injury, despite the torn ligaments in his thumb suffered in practice in late September.
"He's a warrior," said quarterbacks coach Jerry Eisaman. "He knows the difference between pain and injury, and plays with both."
Said offensive line coach John Zernhelt, "He's so consistent, you tend to take him for granted. He has overcome adversity, and he'll be a very successful young man."
Suplee has a 3.0 grade-point average in criminal justice and will seek a job with the FBI or Secret Service if he's spurned by the NFL. Although he had respectable high school grades, it was an adjustment at Maryland, he said, because some South River teachers coddled the athletes and let them hand in homework late.
"They felt for us because of the athletic strain," Suplee said. "It's a different world here, and it took me a while to wake up."
On target to graduate in May, he is one of 16 seniors who will play at Byrd Stadium for the final time in the homecoming game Saturday against Duke. Krivak salutes him this way:
"He's as good a snapper as I've ever seen, playing every snap, every down. A stabilizing guy. The focal point of our offensive line for two years. Loyal, hard-working people like this are the kind who are going to make it."