Cummings shoots from lip, heart Keeping emotions under control No. 1 task for Terps' QB

College football preview

September 05, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Brian Cummings is supposed to have a big mouth, but twice he handed over his starting quarterback position at Maryland with nary a peep. He's put on hold his baseball career, played with a separated shoulder and spent 24 frightening hours vomiting after a concussion, all for the good of the Terps.

Does that sound like a quitter, the accusation Cummings faced last winter?

Cummings is undersized and overhearted, a fifth-year senior who's been known to work a huddle with too much lip and a play with too much grit. When the Ron Vanderlinden era begins tomorrow against Ohio, it will feature captain Cummings, though pTC a sour ending preceded this latest fresh start.

With nine minutes to go in the 1996 finale at Florida State, the Terps were down by 31 points, as Peter Boulware and company had treated Cummings like a tackling dummy. After being sacked for the eighth time, Cummings' instincts for self-preservation finally surfaced, and he told coach Mark Duffner he was done for the day.

A review of the Florida State film showed Cummings was leveled 19 times by rushers.

"I pulled myself out," Cummings said. "Coach Duffner said, 'Are you quitting?' I said, 'No, I'm not a quitter,' but a lot of people were mad at me. Into the winter, a lot of my offensive linemen were mad at me. They said that they were disappointed. To them, it looked like I was walking out of the game, but, to me, that wasn't what I was doing."

Left tackle Darryl Gilliam, who has been Cummings' blind-side ,, protection since 1995, gave another perspective.

"I understand that Brian was frustrated, as was I throughout the entire [1996] season," Gilliam said. "Hopefully, now he's more mature, and he understands how his actions affect the rest of us."

Last October, Cummings had a brilliant first half against Wake Forest despite his second concussion of the season that left him collapsed on the shower-room floor at halftime and eventually hospitalized with uncontrollable vomiting.

Three weeks before that, he had hurried his recovery from a separated shoulder at West Virginia, played miserably and aggravated the injury. The shoulder was originally hurt at Virginia, on a blitz when he was hit simultaneously by three Cavaliers and also suffered his first concussion.

There's a flip side to the bravado that has endeared Cummings to his teammates.

Why do the Terps call him "Flyin' Brian"?

"Because he flies off at the handle sometimes," Gilliam said of Cummings' reaction to missed assignments. "He's gone off a few times on me. What he's said, you couldn't write that in a family newspaper. I guess it's a New York thing. Those guys are a different breed."

A rabid Yankees fan, Cummings was raised in Westchester County. He could be a cartoon in the New Yorker, a pushy cab driver or the kid in the stands who robbed the Orioles last October.

"When you sit back, away from the moment, the biggest thing that I have learned is that people say and do things that they regret," Cummings said. "That's me. I've put my foot in my mouth more times than the next guy."

There were plenty of outbursts last fall, as injuries to Cummings, tailback Buddy Rodgers and then left guard Pat Ward led to an offensive slump that limited Maryland to one touchdown or none in seven of its last nine games.

"That was degrading, humiliating, embarrassing," Cummings said of a skid that ended with Duffner's firing.

Enter Vanderlinden and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson -- Yoda and Obi-wan Kenobi to Cummings' Luke Skywalker. Let go of your emotions. Trust the Force -- or, in this case, the multiple offense that worked wonders at Northwestern.

"In the past, Brian has forced some passes," Vanderlinden said. "Look at his stats. He's thrown for more career interceptions than touchdowns. If the play isn't there, he's got to learn to take a sack.

"When Brian got frustrated in the past, he was volatile. When we get outside of ourselves, we do things we regret, and certainly Brian was like that. He wanted someone to help him. He was open to change."

Last spring, Vanderlinden tossed last year's depth chart in a trash can and opened up every position. Cummings had a similar experience as a sophomore, when he got Maryland off to a 4-0 start, but stepped aside when Scott Milanovich and his NFL talent returned after a gambling suspension.

Drafted as a pitcher out of high school in 1993, Cummings lettered for the Terps' baseball team in 1995 and '96. He focused on football, however, last spring. More than any other veteran, was the new coaching staff gauging his reaction?

"Anytime you have a returning starter who's gotten the publicity that Brian has got, you want to make sure you've got that guy marching to your drummer," Johnson said. "We want to make sure he's going to do things the Ron Vanderlinden way. That was critical for us."

"The coaches have been around, and I'm going to listen to them," Cummings said.

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