COLLEGE PARK -- Whenever there has been a hole in the lineup or on the field, Maryland junior inside linebacker Dave Marrone has filled it.
He played as a true freshman when injuries forced starters out of the lineup. And when sophomore inside linebacker Louis Johnson, who split playing time with Marrone, was declared academically ineligible nearly three weeks ago, Marrone became the full-time starter.
Since then Marrone, 6 feet 3 and 233 pounds, has made 22 tackles in two games, including a career-high 14 last week against Clemson. He is now the Terps' second leading tackler with 83 for the season, tied for eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Maryland (2-8 overall, 2-4 ACC) is hoping to get another big game from Marrone tomorrow when the Terps meet North Carolina State (8-2, 4-2) at Carter-Finley Stadium (1 p.m.) in Raleigh, N.C.
"He was having a pretty good season when he was splitting time, and he has stepped his game up when we needed it," said George Foussekis, Maryland's inside linebacker coach. "He's always had good intensity and toughness, even playing for us without a redshirt. I wish he had two more years."
Marrone, from St. John the Baptist High in Babylon, N.Y., is a physical player, who was blessed with size and cursed with little speed. The combination cost him some playing in his first two seasons.
"I've tried to work on my speed, and I really didn't think I set the world on fire in my first two years," said Marrone. "Now I've learned to play within my limits. I've tried to anticipate more, position myself and get a quick, first step."
Marrone is not only a student of the game, but an Academic All-American. He was an honor roll student for four years in high school, and has a 3.8 grade average on a 4.0 scale at Maryland. He's polite, astute and quiet.
And he's got one heck of an appetite. His nickname: Big Fella. His favorite hobby: sleep.
The two have caused problems.
"I've got to watch that," said Marrone, who takes a lot of ribbing from the coaches and players. "In the off-season, I'll get up around 247 pounds."
"I jokingly tell him that if he keeps gaining weight, we're going to make him a down lineman," said Foussekis, who gave Marrone the nickname. "But he moves fairly well and we keep him on the field a lot. He plays a lot of special teams for us too, and takes a lot of pride in himself."
Marrone has been overlooked this season because he plays next to Mike Jarmolowich, who leads the conference in tackles with 142.
The two have been the most consistent part of the defense, which has struggled this season. Jarmolowich is one of Marrone's biggest fans, and also provides most of the good-natured ribbing.
"He's a good player who hustles all the time and makes a lot of smart decisions out there. He reads plays pretty well," said Jarmolowich. "I'm glad to look over there and see him playing next to me because he gives you a lot of confidence."
"He's got the perfect-looking linebacker body," said Jarmolowich laughing. "He's got those thick legs, the solid-looking upper body and that big butt."
And most of all, Marrone has the ability to fill gaps for Maryland.
NOTES: Special-teams players Kevin Woodeshick (back problems) and Erick Wood (hamstring) and No. 2 TB Raphael Wall (ankle) will not play for Maryland tomorrow. Starting FS Bill Inge (ankle) is listed as questionable.