Marylanders a big part of San Diego's success

January 23, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

A dream or a nightmare?

Here's the possible situation: The San Francisco 49ers are down by four points with the ball on the San Diego Chargers' 10-yard line with three seconds left in the game. Receiver Jerry Rice is split right, covered man-to-man by Chargers cornerback Sean Vanhorse.

"Every player has dreamed of this situation," said Vanhorse, a graduate of Northwestern High in Baltimore. "The Bowl, playing against the best ever with the game on the line. Then I make the play to win the game.

"I'm still in a dream world right now. But that will all change when we step on the field Sunday. And if that situation comes, I just hope Jerry doesn't make the move that completely embarrasses me," said Vanhorse, laughing.

Vanhorse is one of several Chargers personnel with a connection to Maryland. San Diego reserve defensive tackle Reggie White is from Milford Mill High, and reserve offensive guard Eric Jonassen attended Mount St. Joseph. Former Towson State running back Tony Vinson, a rookie, is on the Chargers' developmental squad.

Former Towson State coach Phil Albert and one of his former running backs, Jeff Beathard, are San Diego scouts, and Chargers head coach Bobby Ross has three of his former assistants at the University of Maryland on San Diego's coaching staff.

"We leave it to Tony to tell us all the news that is from back home," said White. "It's his job. He's the rook, you know.

"It's kind of odd to look around and see a couple of guys from your hometown on the same club, but we're here, all getting ready for the biggest game of our lives."

Though Vinson won't see any action Sunday, Jonassen, Vanhorse and White have played strong supporting roles for the Chargers on their road to the Super Bowl.

And each one had a similar journey to the NFL. All three went to small colleges. All three were drafted in the middle to late rounds, increasing the chances of their not making the NFL.

But they all persevered.

Vanhorse, 26, was drafted in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins in 1990, but a stress fracture in his left foot caused him to miss his rookie season. He was signed as a Plan B free agent by the Detroit Lions a year later, but an ankle injury in training camp put him on injured reserve for the rest of the season.

Finally, Vanhorse found his niche with the Chargers, starting nine games in 1992 and 10 games last season. He's now the Chargers nickel back and an ace special teams performer.

"A lot depends on the philosophy of your team," said Vanhorse, 5 feet 10, 177 pounds. "When I came out of Howard University, a lot of teams were looking for faster, smaller cornerbacks. And then there are teams like Pittsburgh which are looking for big, strong corners. I always thought I could make it. I just needed a chance."

It was a similar situation when Vanhorse was looking at colleges. He can't remember winning many games at Northwestern. Not one college recruited him.

But after Vanhorse's junior season in high school, Northwestern coach Jim Ward joined the staff at Howard. The year Vanhorse went to Howard, two players from Northwestern received scholarships.

Vanhorse wasn't one of them.

"He told me that he thought I was good enough to play, but if I came in as a walk-on, showed them something, I could get a scholarship. By the end of the first semester, I had earned a scholarship," said Vanhorse, who started two seasons for Howard.

White, 6-4, 300 pounds, also starred in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. White was the Chargers' 1992 sixth-round pick from North Carolina A&T.

Almost every college on the East Coast wanted White when he came out of Milford Mill, but White wanted no part of the big time.

"They all wanted to red-shirt me," said White. "At A&T, they told me I could play right away. I wasn't worried about the NFL back then; I just wanted to play some ball."

White is basically used as a run stopper for the Chargers. He plays 15 to 20 downs per game. But White is also one of the team's leaders.

The man they call "Big Daddy" has big fun. When the Chargers edged the Steelers in the AFC championship game, it was White who appeared the most on television with his rapping, dancing and showboating style.

When ESPN recently taped a Chargers practice, they caught White teasing linebacker Junior Seau about his dance after a big play.

"He needs a little more style," said White.

Chargers defensive line coach Dennis Murphy said: "Reggie is a great person who has a lot of positive energy. Very seldom do you see him down and out, and his attitude reflects on the entire team."

White and Jonassen talk daily, even though it's not always by design.

"We have to go against each other in practice, and sometimes it can get nasty," said White. "All is fair in love and war."

Jonassen, from Bloomsburg College, was the Chargers' fifth-round pick in 1992. Until the AFC championship game last week, he had played in nearly half of the Chargers' offensive plays this season.

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