After stepping in, Towson State's Orlando is finally catching on Tigers' sophomore is leading receiver

October 10, 1992|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

No sooner had Mark Orlando set foot on Towson State's campus than he had an impertinent question.

Turning to another player during that first day of football camp in August 1990, Orlando asked, "Who's that old guy over there talking to everybody?"

Phil Albert, he was told. Football coach Phil Albert, then just 46 years old.

Clearly, Orlando arrived at Towson with as little knowledge of the coaching staff as the coaching staff had of him. He considered himself a "preferred walk-on," or, as new coach Gordy Combs calls such a marginal player, "a recruited non-scholarship player."

No longer does either belittling description apply to Orlando. A sophomore now, he is Towson State's big-play receiver with 14 catches for 340 yards, an average of 24.2. He and tailback Tony Vinson lead the team with four touchdowns each.

And, yes, Orlando now has a partial scholarship.

The Tigers play at Delaware State today (1:30 p.m.), trying to rebound from a 16-14 loss to Liberty in which Orlando's 9-yard touchdown catch got the Tigers within a field goal with 2:18 left. It was against Liberty last year as a redshirt freshman that Orlando had his first truly productive game.

Starting for the first time, because the coaches abruptly switched from a three- to a four-receiver offense after little

success running, Orlando caught eight passes for 126 yards.

The same night, quarterback Dan Crowley, also making his first start, threw a school-record 56 passes.

"One recollection I have is that I was tired and beat up physically," Orlando said. "I wasn't used to playing a whole game, and Liberty had good hitters."

A three-sport star at Liberty High in Sykesville, Orlando played quarterback as a senior, but knew colleges would be interested in him onlyas a receiver, which he played as a junior.

"I really wasn't recruited," he said. "I kind of called them. My coach [John Magee] called and sent film. It was either going to be Shepherd or Towson, and Towson was closer to home. They said I could come and try out if I wanted. That first year in camp, I wasn't sure I could play. The guys were so big."

As a true freshman, Orlando was on the scout team that ran the offensive plays of the next opponent against the varsity defense to help prepare it for the game.

"I was the defensive coach then and saw him making great plays against the defense," Combs said. "He was running by our defensive backs. Playing on the scout team wears guys out because we never substitute for them. Yet that first semester, tired as he must have been, Mark commuted to Sykesville every night."

Although Orlando hasn't been timed lately for 40 yards at Towson State, he says Magee, his old high school coach, clocked him in "4.4 or 4.5" during the summer. He's among the Tigers' fastest half-dozen players.

"He plays very fast when he has the ball in his hands and sees the goal line," Combs said. "He's giving us big plays because he has the speed and quickness to do something after the catch and make people miss."

Orlando reminds Combs of Dale Chipps, Towson State's all-time leading receiver who played from 1984 to 1987.

Same deceptive speed. Same ability to turn on the second burner.

Same knack, Combs says, for producing a big play.

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