Towson's Sydnor is rushing to catch up Senior unintimidated by tailback forebears

September 05, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

As Towson State's Maurice Sydnor rattles off the names, his smile grows along with his list.

Tony Vinson. Brian McCarty. Larry Washington. Each was a 1,000-yard rusher for the Tigers over the previous four seasons. And no discussion of this year's backfield, which includes Sydnor, would be complete without mentioning one of those former standouts.

Vinson reached the milestone twice, then gave way to McCarty, who was succeeded by Washington. And before any of them was David Meggett, who in 1988 became the most decorated player in Towson football history. He won the Walter Payton Award and was named to several All-America teams.

So, why the grin from Sydnor, a senior from Allen, Texas, who will be the starting tailback for Saturday's 2: 30 p.m. season opener at Butler University? Not only isn't he intimidated by the prospect of following such greatness, he's overjoyed.

Known mostly for his special teams play -- he has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns -- Sydnor finally is branching out. Last year, he carried the ball 43 times for 244 yards and four touchdowns. This fall, he may carry the load.

"I accept it as a part of life. You wait your turn for some good things to happen," he said. "I understand what's been accomplished by the people in the past. There's a lot riding on my shoulders, but I just have to accept it, be mature about it and go out there and do as well as I can."

Just how well a 5-foot-8, 155-pound tailback like Sydnor can do is one of the largest questions looming over the Tigers. At first glance, he's more seahorse than workhorse. But don't be fooled by initial appearances.

"I'm in real good condition," said Sydnor, 25, an Army veteran. "My body is mature as well as my mind. If I'm given an opportunity, I'll do well."

Coach Gordy Combs could take a running-back-by-committee approach with sophomores Rohan Cross, Aaron Derwin and Brian Jones, each of whom weighs more than 200 pounds. "I have no problem having three guys getting 15 to 18 carries a game," he said.

But first, Combs said, "We'll see if Maurice can handle the situation."

If the running game falters -- and the return of junior fullback Bill Hughes makes that less likely -- sophomore quarterback Kevin Smith is prepared. "If they need me to throw it 30 times, I will, and if they need me to hand it off 30 times, I will," he said.

"Our running backs are going to be all right," he added. "There are 1,000-yard rushers there."

A greater certainty is Smith's entrenchment as the quarterback. He became the starter in the third game last season, against Wagner, and wouldn't relinquish the job, completing nearly 50 percent of his passes for 1,285 yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

His competition this year thinned when Ryan Waltz, the previous starter, quit the team, leaving freshman Joseph Lee and sophomore Mike Schmidt (C. Milton Wright) as the backups.

"Kevin is the next in a long line of quality TSU quarterbacks," Combs said.

"Last year," Smith said, "it was learn on the run because I wasn't expecting to even get any snaps. This year, there's more urgency about knowing the offense and getting it together as fast as I can."

His targets include senior wide receivers Shawn Ward (31 receptions, 438 yards, five touchdowns) and Amadi Eze (28 catches, 423 yards, four touchdowns), two speedsters who will stretch defenses.

The line is deep and talented. Last year's tight end, junior Steve ++ Szymanski, is moving to right tackle, and sophomore Matt Payne takes over at center. Junior guards Jason Maier and Phil Brown and sophomore left tackle Tony Campitelli are back, and Combs said the Tigers have a nucleus of nine linemen who will play a lot.

"Last year, we were so limited with a freshman quarterback, not having spring football and Larry Washington not having any experience in our offense," said offensive coordinator Jay Robinson. "We had a few running plays and a few pass plays. We were really predictable. This year, our biggest problem is going to be deciding what we don't want to run offensively. We've got a lot of ways to throw it and a lot of ways to run it."

Towson State at a glance

Coach: Gordy Combs (fifth season)

Last year: 6-4, 4-1

Conference: ECAC-Intercollegiate Football Conference

Radio: WTMD (89.7 FM)

Stadium: Minnegan (5,000)

Offense: Multiple

Defense: 4-3

Top returning players: QB Kevin Smith, WR Shawn Ward, WR Amadi Eze, TB Maurice Sydnor, OT Steve Szymanski, OT Tony Campitelli, OG Phil Brown, OG Jason Maier, DE Eric Erhardt, DT Tim Moran, LB Jim Colongo, FS Khalid McLeod, CB Brad Friedman, PK George Perdikakis.

Top newcomers: WR Eric Beach, DT Emmett Brown, DB Greg Crawford, LB Jimmy Eulo, DB Jabari Garrett, DT Scott Lenz, WR Brian Sale.

Strengths: The offensive and defensive lines, which are big, deep and talented; the linebackers and secondary; speed at receiver with seniors Ward and Eze; the kicking game; lots of playing experience despite youth.

Weaknesses: There aren't many. For a change, the team lacks an established runner; there are only five seniors; there's no depth at quarterback, meaning if Smith goes down, so likely will the Tigers.

Strongest opponent: Bucknell, in the second week. The game is in Lewisburg, Pa., and Bucknell is coming off a 7-4 season (including 4-1 in the Patriot League).

Key game: Bucknell. "This will give us a picture of where we are," Combs said.

Schedule Date .. .. .. ..Opponent .. .. .. .Time

Sept. 7 .. .. Butler .. .. ..2: 30

Sept. 14 .. .. .at Bucknell .. .. .. .1

Sept. 21 .. .. .at Robert Morris .1: 30

Sept. 28 .. .. .Dayton .. ... .. .. ..1

Oct. 5 .. .. ...Central Conn. .. .. ..7

Oct. 12 .. .. ..Colgate .. .. .. .. ..1

Oct. 19 .. .. Monmouth .. .. ....1

Oct. 26 .. .. ..St. Fran. Pa. (H) .. .1

Nov. 2 .. .. Marist .. .. .. ...1

Nov. 16 .. .. ..Wagner .. .. .. .. .. 1

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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