Kaleo, Terps' high-flying offense get well-deserved last laugh

Phil Jackman

November 16, 1992|By Phil Jackman

COLLEGE PARK -- It's unfortunate for the strapped Maryland football program that the people who doubted John Kaleo's ability to function as a top-flight quarterback didn't show up at the games. Byrd Stadium would have been SRO all season.

In lieu of the ringmaster of the Terps flying circus doing anything more than flashing a knowing smile after another memorable performance Saturday, I'll say it: "So there!"

Good thing the senior junior college transfer from Davidsonville isn't the vindictive type. He could spend from now until graduation next spring detailing the particulars of individual and team records amassed this season.

"It would have been great going 8-3 and not the other way around, but I think we established the school as a force to be reckoned with and it's only going to get better around here," said Kaleo after Maryland had smeared once highly thought of Clemson, 53-23.

The immediate reaction is to ask, so what does it profit a team if it rewrites the whole school record book on offense only to lose eight of 11 games?

This: Coming off a season in which not only the record (2-9) but the attitude and prospects appeared lousy, coach Mark Duffner, his staff and the team had to start somewhere.

"I knew this offense would come out sooner or later," said Kaleo. "I thought it would be earlier."

It couldn't have occurred much earlier than the opener when Maryland hammered out about a quarter-mile of offense against heavily favored Virginia and held a lead in the fourth quarter.

Week after week, with Kaleo being described as too small, too this, too that and a rag-arm, the Terps charged off yardage as if playing touch football with passing all over the field.

Then, week after week, Duffner would face questions regarding the quarterback situation. No doubt the coach was wondering what media types were watching if they didn't think Kaleo was doing a spectacular job running the show. Nearly every week the team had a chance to win while having no business being within shouting distance.

The kid was aware of the situation since it hadn't changed much since his schoolboy days in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties and his standout JuCo days in Montgomery County.

"They've been telling me for years that I can't play here or there, and I've proved them wrong consistently. I think I can still keep doing it," said the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder.

There was no rancor in his voice or manner and he said as far as vindication is concerned, "I hardly ever think of that."

His celebration when the final gun sounded Saturday was a look up into the stands where his parents were sitting and a self-satisfied wave of the fist. "We've been through this together," he explained.

With 27 connections in 41 throws good for 418 yards and five touchdowns against Clemson, Kaleo ended the season with five individual school records. He has a ton of game records, led his mates to 11 team marks and, in just one full season, finished high up among a list of impressive names in career statistics.

This is while getting acclimated in a new system brought to town by Duffner, remember. The coach knew he had something special in Kaleo almost immediately, citing his "tremendous competitiveness and the fact that he doesn't know any other way but to go after it."

In return, Kaleo says, "I got my fire back from coach . . . and he taught me how to be more poised and relaxed. And I got a lot better as a passer and in the ability to read defenses."

While completing nearly 300 of 500 passes (286-for-482), Kaleo accounted for 3,500 yards total offense, 3,400 yards passing with 16 touchdown passes, all while being sub-par on occasion with shoulder and leg injuries. Along for the ride was his good buddy and favorite receiver Marcus Badgett, who rewrote the record book for one season, not only for Maryland but the ACC.

"We became strong friends last year [while riding the bench], probably because we're so competitive," said Kaleo. "We're always dueling, on the basketball court, trivia, everything.

"We knew we needed something like this run-and-shoot to turn this place around and all last summer we worked at least an hour extra a day after our regular weight lifting and running were finished. We busted our butts like nobody knows and it got to the point where he knows what I'm thinking and I know what he's thinking."

Badgett ended up with 75 catches and 1,230 yards, both school and conference marks, despite persistent ankle problems and his nine receiving touchdowns was a school record.

" 'Just get me the ball,' he'd say, 'I gotta win the Heisman Trophy,' " the quarterback said of his wide receiver. "And darned if he didn't have a season probably as good as anyone."

Which pretty well describes the way John Kaleo's season went, too. He could gloat, but he long since has learned the truth in the axiom that actions speak louder than words.

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