Rodgers may carry Terps' future Sturdy runner is due for spotlight, whether he enjoys it or not

November 18, 1995|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Buddy Rodgers said he isn't "a spotlight type of person," and the sophomore running back doesn't warm to the notion that he's the future of Maryland's offense. The fact is, he wanted to hide last August, when the Terps' marketing department plastered his image on 16 billboards in the Baltimore-Annapolis area.

"I took a lot of heat, in particular from Bruce James and Paul Jackson, and some other people in my class," Rodgers said. "We're pretty tight, and everybody razzes anybody about anything. Bruce would say, 'It must be nice to be a superstar. Can I be your friend? Can I walk with you?'

"I just laughed it off, but after practice one day, coach [Mark] Duffner told everyone to lay off me. He said they chose my picture because of the circumstances, that it wasn't my fault."

Actually, the last-minute decision to center efforts to fill Byrd Stadium around Rodgers was rather prescient.

Seniors Scott Milanovich and Jermaine Lewis, proven offensive stars, began the season on gambling suspensions, so Maryland had to select another photo for the billboards. An unknown at the time, Rodgers has rushed for 678 yards, the best by a Terp in a decade and the best by a sophomore since 1979.

Maryland finishes the regular season at No. 6 Florida State today, and the game could mark a changing of the guard for the Terps.

The Seminoles are 33-point favorites, and if Maryland doesn't get help elsewhere and back into the Carquest, Independence or Liberty bowls, it will be the final college game for Milanovich and Lewis, the most prolific pass-and-catch combination in Terps history.

They benefited from the run-and-shoot, but that one-back set and Rodgers' production floundered in the middle of the season, when the Terps scored 12 points and he was limited to 124 yards in four games.

In desperation, the Terps used an I-formation the last two games, and Rodgers followed a tight end and fullback to 161 yards. The power game and Rodgers will probably be featured even more next season, but it isn't something that he is clamoring for.

"Buddy doesn't see himself as the main fixture that he is," running backs coach Dave Ungerer said. "Every week, I try to help him see the big picture, but he just doesn't realize the role he's played in turning this thing around.

"His ability to make the first guy miss is uncommon. He runs for more than the play is blocked for. If it's blocked for four yards, Buddy gets seven or eight. If it's blocked for one, he gets four. If you were able to study our film, you'd see what a fantastic job he's done getting a lot of yards on his own."

In the first quarter of last week's loss to Virginia, Rodgers was hit behind the line, but broke three more tackles on an 11-yard gain. It's what he has done all season behind an inexperienced offensive line, and exactly what the Terps envisioned when Rodgers, who's from East Providence, R.I., became the first Parade All-American to play for Maryland.

Rodgers, 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, missed part of his high school senior season with an injury, and was content getting his feet wet as a true freshman last year, when he got 39 carries and 139 yards. He began this season alternating possessions with Brian Underwood, but Rodgers' production has gotten him double the carries.

Rodgers is Maryland's fourth-leading receiver. He also may have the best passing efficiency in the nation, as the Terps' only halfback option pass of the season was his 32-yard touchdown to Mancel Johnson that clinched the North Carolina win.

He had 100-yard games the next two weeks, as Maryland rolled to a 4-0 start, and more of the same is probably the Terps' best hope to slow Florida State's Fast Break offense.

Draft experts tout Rodgers as the best NFL prospect in College Park, but he doesn't want to hear it. An Elementary Education major, Rodgers' career goal is to teach and coach in high school. He's great with kids, and is a bit of a homebody, one reason he hasn't even seen one of the billboards that teammates squawked about.

"I don't have a car, and I don't get off campus much," Rodgers said. "I haven't even seen one of the billboards. My father took video of the one on I-95 in Baltimore, but I haven't had time to see it yet."

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