Walk-on Settles is symbol of Maryland's past, future

September 24, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

COLLEGE PARK -- The crowds at Lock Haven were never more than a few thousand, Mike Settles recalls, "a whole lot of parents and maybe a few students."

This was his introduction to college football.

Division II.

The Pennsylvania Conference.

Shippensburg, East Stroudsburg, Slippery Rock.

That a 6-foot-2, 200-pound walk-on evolved into a starting outside linebacker at Maryland is testament to Settles' inner strength.

That Maryland must rely on such a transfer is testament to the massive rebuilding coach Mark Duffner faces even after landing back-to-back recruiting classes in the top 25.

This isn't "Rudy," it's reality.

Settles, 21, is a classic overachiever, an award-winning student, everything college football should be. The irony is, Maryland might have no place for him if it were a national power.

The same holds for two other former walk-ons now starting -- strong safety Angel Guerra, a transfer from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, and receiver Russ Weaver, a transfer from Division III John Carroll.

"I came in at the right time," says Settles, a junior from Temple Hills. "If I would have come in when the program was getting bigger, when they were bringing in more athletes, it would have been hard."

Settles is 26 pounds lighter than Derrick Brooks, Florida State's All-America outside linebacker. He has the body of a strong safety, but isn't fast enough for that position.

At outside linebacker, he fights off blocks from offensive linemen who outweigh him by 75 pounds. Still, he's Maryland's third-leading tackler entering today's game against Wake Forest.

"People always give me a funny look, like, 'You play outside linebacker?' " Settles says. "I always tell 'em, 'Yeah, and I can hit hard.' Everyone knows I'm small. But I'm not easy to take down."

Good thing.

Peter McCarty, Maryland's assistant coach for outside linebackers, recalls watching Settles at spring practice in 1993.

"You looked at him, and you said, 'Oh, man, this guy's going to get killed.' "

McCarty was recruiting for Duffner at Holy Cross when Settles was a 180-pound inside linebacker at Bishop McNamara High in Forestville.

"Undersized," McCarty says. "But the kid made plays left and right."

Settles ranked seventh in a class of 102 at McNamara, but fell short of the 1,200 SAT score required by Holy Cross. He wound up on partial scholarship at Lock Haven, and started as a freshman at inside linebacker.

It didn't satisfy him.

"I just thought, 'I should have gone Division I,' " Settles recalls. "I didn't want to go through college thinking, 'maybe if I tried to walk on somewhere . . .' It was my time to leave, to find a place to transfer."

He informed the Lock Haven staff of his plans over Christmas break. Duffner was named Maryland coach on New Year's Eve. McCarty and most of the Holy Cross staff followed.

Duffner made no promises, but Settles figured that if he couldn't play football, he would pay the in-state tuition, earn a degree in finance and become a stockbroker or investment banker.

His father, Robert, is an information systems analyst for the U.S. Treasury Department. His sister, Andria, holds a similar job with the U.S. Justice Department. His mother, Faye, is a dental hygienist.

Settles made the ACC Academic Honor Roll last season and was the subject of a profile in Black Issues in Higher Education magazine. He spent part of last summer as an intern for Rep. Albert Wynn, a Maryland Democrat.

"He would have been a success in anything," says Liz Friedman, the assistant director for academic support at Maryland. "He's that kind of self-starter."

And so he rose from the bottom of the depth chart at Maryland, after sitting out the 1992 season as a transfer. He paid his own way for two years, and is now on scholarship.

Tom Clark, his coach at McNamara, told McCarty, "He'll play for you before it's over. He'll play for you, and he won't embarrass you."

"That stuck in my mind," McCarty recalls. "One thing you always saw in all the drills was that he went after it like a crazed banshee. We said, 'Wow, that kid goes at a different speed.' "

And still, it isn't always fast enough.

Settles lost his starting job to Cleveland Everhart against Florida State, but rebounded last week at West Virginia with eight tackles and two assists, including a team-high three tackles behind the line.

He's everything college football should be.

But Maryland would have no place for him, if it were a national power.

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