Flores sees it through for Terps Senior LB makes defensive stand

November 02, 1993|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Jaime Flores didn't exactly land in the garden spot of college football, but when he considers where he came from, the view suits him just fine.

Flores is the self-sufficient senior who lines up at left defensive end for Maryland, stud linebacker in the Terps' terminology. He's TC their only scholarship player from Baltimore and the last senior left standing on an injury-weakened defense that is ranked last in NCAA Division I-A.

He's provided direction for younger teammates and explanations for the media as the designated spokesman for the Maryland defense.

"Somebody's got to do it," Flores said. "As far as supporting the younger guys, some of them have only played eight college football games. I think they can relate to what I'm saying."

Flores, 6 feet 2, 230 pounds, will play his final home game Saturday, but it doesn't figure to be a joyous occasion, because Florida State will be the first No. 1 team ever to visit Byrd Stadium.

The Terps dropped to 1-7 at Clemson last week, and afterward Flores took responsibility for three of the six offside penalties called against the defense. He was actually guilty of two, but they were unlikely mistakes from a player who is praised for the intelligence and habits that could get him in medical school next year.

"The guy's going to be a doctor someday," said Peter McCarty, who coaches Maryland's outside linebackers. "He's a great kid, especially when you consider where he's come from and what he's done."

Flores is in the Baltimore minority that enjoyed the World Series, the reason being the high percentage of Hispanics on the Toronto Blue Jays. He was born in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, and lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., before his family moved to Baltimore about the time he was entering fifth grade.

He had a self-described "wild streak" as an adolescent, but most of that energy was spent at the since-closed recreation center on Ann Street.

"I grew up on the East side, a block next to the projects," Flores said. "I think one friend from the crowd I used to run with is doing well. A couple got killed, a couple are in jail."

Flores ignored the low expectations of his teachers at what is now Hampstead Hill Middle School, and got into Poly. His participation in sports was limited in his first two years there, in part because of leg injuries he sustained in an auto wreck, but also because he bused tables -- underage -- in Little Italy.

"I kept telling the kid he ought to be playing something," said Poly coach Augie Waibel. "We got Jaime out for lacrosse when he was a sophomore, and you should have seen him on faceoffs. He came out for football the following year, and made the Maryland Scholastic Association All-Stars as a senior."

Recruiters weren't lined up for Flores, and Waibel said Maryland offered a scholarship after a strong recommendation from Chuck White, the coach of the MSA All-Stars.

Flores has counseled younger players this season, but was on the other end when he arrived here as an out-of-shape, 245-pound freshman. As a redshirt freshman in 1990, he was injured in preparations for the Independence Bowl.

He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a slight tear of the anterior cruciate ligament the next spring and played little as a sophomore. He was a part-time starter last year, when his interception sparked the Terps' first win, over Pittsburgh.

Freshman Ratcliff Thomas and Flores are the only defenders this season to start every game for Maryland, which is allowing 555 yards -- an NCAA record pace for futility -- and 44.3 points per game.

"There's a lot of stress and strain on Jaime," said outside linebacker Mark Sturdivant, who broke an ankle in the opener and hasn't played since. "He hasn't had any choice. He's had to be a leader."

Flores was Maryland's Defensive Player of the Game in its lone victory, over Duke. Playing with a minor ankle injury, he has 32 unassisted tackles, including a team-high three sacks, but McCarty said his contribution goes beyond numbers.

"Jaime does a lot of things that don't turn up on the stat sheet," he said. "He's taking away a lot of things that people are trying to do.

"Forget the penalties [at Clemson]. Jaime's a very intelligent player, one who has a grasp of the total package we're using. He's what I call a back-room guy. If a young player doesn't understand what I'm saying, they go to him and get it in English."

Actually, Spanish was spoken at the Flores home. He flunked ninth-grade English at Poly and had to attend summer school, but academics haven't been a problem since.

Flores has a 3.3 grade-point average in his major, kinesiological science, and wants to pursue a career as an orthopedic surgeon, his goal since his own knee surgery two years ago.

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