The spotlight has burned too brightly for Scott Milanovich this summer.
"I told someone last week, I spent the first 18 years of my life trying to get in the public eye, and I will probably spend the next 15 trying to get out of it," Milanovich said. "It just seems that everyone wants to talk about the bad things. I guess the good doesn't sell as well as the bad."
Milanovich, who set 12 records as Maryland's quarterback, has been suspended for the Terps' first four games because he gambled on college sports.
On July 19, Milanovich announced that he would return to Maryland for his final season instead of entering the NFL's
supplemental draft. He read from a prepared statement that night and took no questions. Yesterday he gave his first interview since April, when he initially was linked to Maryland's gambling investigation.
When asked why he knowingly broke NCAA rules against gambling -- on six separate occasions, from 1992 to 1994 --
Milanovich said "I don't know."
He declined to comment yesterday about the specifics of his violations or the investigation that led to his suspension, and those of three other Maryland athletes, two football teammates and a men's basketball player.
As the most visible player in a major college program, Milanovich said he understands the need to be a role model, but he had trouble reconciling that with his desire to be "like a normal college student."
"I've tried my best to have a good time, meet people and enjoy myself like a normal college student," Milanovich said. "It seems that people want you to do that, fit in with other students, but when you make a normal college mistake, your life is made public. It's hard to live a normal college student's life when people are watching every step you take."
The suspension came at a time when Milanovich appeared to be getting other aspects of his life in order. He passed 18 credits in the spring and six more earlier this summer to remain academically eligible, and in the spring coach Mark Duffner praised his conditioning and leadership.
In late May, Milanovich went to a resort outside Phoenix, where Playboy gathered its preseason All-American team for a photo session. At the time, he didn't think his senior season was in jeopardy.
"I knew it was going to make waves regardless of the outcome, but I didn't anticipate anything of this magnitude," Milanovich said. "I expected a suspension of one or two games. I was actually upset when it was two instead of one, because that's what all of the precedents seemed to point to."
On July 10, the NCAA eligibility appeals staff extended the two-game suspension Maryland had given Milanovich to eight games. A week later, the Eligibility Appeals Committee reduced it to four games, and Milanovich had to choose between Maryland or a shot at the NFL.
"They couldn't have given me a more difficult decision to make," Milanovich said. "If it had been three games, it would have been easy to stay. If it had been five, it would have been easy to go. Four games put me in the middle. I don't think they chose that number to make it hard on me. If they had cut it all the way back to two, maybe they felt they would have been stepping on people's toes."
A source close to Milanovich said that he sought assurances from Duffner that he would be the starter once his eligibility was ++ reinstated.
"What good does it do to come back if you're not going to play?" Milanovich said. "I knew if I left for the supplemental draft, at the very minimum, I could still sign on somewhere as a free agent. If you come back [to Maryland] and don't play, you're a year older and you haven't gained anything.
"To me, that was the worst-case scenario. I'd rather go to the supplemental draft and fail, than to come back to Maryland and not play."
The Terps will be without their starter of the past two years for four games, a 6-foot-3, 227-pound 22-year-old with an extensive knowledge of the run-and-shoot, 47 touchdown passes and 6,125 yards passing. Does Milanovich feel as if he let his teammates down?
"Yes," he said. "I'd love to be back for all 11 games."
Milanovich's chances at postseason honors and his stock in the 1996 NFL draft have diminished. He said he understands that he'll be judged for his actions off the field as well as those on it.
"That's disappointing, but I don't have anyone to blame but myself," Milanovich said. "They say that the cream rises to the top, and if I'm a better player than some other guys who get the honors, people will realize that. Some crazy things that have happened in the last couple of years have helped me keep the NFL draft in perspective. I'm not going to worry about that."
Seven weeks will pass between tomorrow, when Milanovich and more than 60 other veterans will report to camp, and his nationally televised debut, Sept. 28 at Georgia Tech.
"I know it's not going to be easy," Milanovich said. "Hopefully, we'll play well. It will be much more difficult if we're struggling."
Milanovich will help tutor two freshmen quarterbacks while redshirt sophomore Brian Cummings runs the team. Cummings has said he'll try to get the Terps to 4-0, then step aside for Milanovich.
"That makes you feel good," Milanovich said. "I respect Brian for that. I don't know if I would have said that when I was his age."