Terps have fallen short, but Barton stands tall Linebacker has helped defense gain respect

October 16, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Eric Barton is one of the most respected linebackers in the Atlantic Coast Conference and has a legitimate chance to play in the NFL next season.

But in case an NFL career does not materialize, the Maryland senior has a plan.

"I always tease our coaching staff that when I'm old and they have this program so big like a Florida State, I'm going to come in as a coach and upset them," said Barton. "They always laugh. But it won't be funny when it happens."

The 6-foot-3, 229-pound dynamo chose Maryland out of Edison High in nearby Alexandria, Va., for two main reasons.

He had hopes of being part of a rebirth of Maryland football, and he wanted to stay close to home.

"Anybody can go to a UCLA and get stuck in there," said Barton. "It's like a machine. I think it takes a lot of character to come somewhere where things aren't going well and try to fix it. It's more special if that happens than just going somewhere that spins out All-Americas and wins a lot. So what if I became an All-America at UCLA? So who isn't an All-America at UCLA?"

Nebraska was his second choice, but distance ruled out the Cornhuskers.

Until last week's crushing, 23-0 loss to Clemson, Barton said, he fully expected to be part of a major turnaround in Maryland's football fortunes.

The setback to a Clemson team that had lost four in a row was so devastating for Barton that he remained secluded in the locker room long after the game was over.

"I really thought we were going to win the Clemson game," he said of a 2-4 Maryland team that is 0-3 in the ACC. "I thought that was going to be what turned the program around. Unfortunately, it didn't happen, but I can't hang my head and think about that too much. I just love playing football, no matter what happens. Even if we're down, 88-0, I still want to go out there and make plays."

With just five games left in his college career, it would take something of a miracle for Barton to ride off happily into the NFL sunset.

Georgia Tech, ranked 25th in the nation with a 4-1 record, and an unpredictable 3-2 North Carolina State team remain on Maryland's schedule.

XTC The Georgia Tech game will be played in two weeks in Baltimore at the Ravens stadium and is tentatively set for noon. It will be the first NCAA Division 1-A game played in the stadium.

There is also tomorrow's 1 p.m. homecoming date with Wake Forest at Byrd Stadium and road games at North Carolina and Duke.

Even if there are no miracles, Barton said he will take solace in the fact he has helped the Maryland defense gain some respect with his bruising and relentless style of play.

"When I was in high school, people felt the Maryland defense was the worst in the nation," he said. "I wanted to change the way people thought about Maryland's defense and the way Maryland's defense played. I think I can still accomplish that, because through hard work and being a senior here with players beside me like Kendall [Ogle] and C. C. [Cliff Crosby] and all those guys, Delbert [Cowsette], people are starting to look at Maryland's defense differently."

It has also been a thrill for Barton to have his mother and father attend every one of his college games at home and away.

Barton said his parents never applied pressure on him to excel at football.

"They tell me just to have fun and play hard," he said. "They just want me to be happy. They don't know the Xs and Os and don't know if I'm good or not. If I was fifth-string, they would still support me."

Barton is far from fifth-string.

He was named to numerous preseason All-America and All-ACC teams and leads Maryland in tackles with 12.5 a game. He enters the Wake Forest game with 333 career tackles, placing him 10th on the all-time Maryland list.

Barton also entered the season as the second-leading career tackler returning in the ACC with 258.

NOTES: Former Maryland great Randy White and former coach Jerry Claiborne will be at Byrd Stadium tomorrow when the school's 1973 Peach Bowl team is honored. White was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1994 after ending a celebrated career with the Dallas Cowboys, and Claiborne guided White and the Terps to their first bowl game in 18 years when he took an 8-3 squad to the Peach Bowl in 1973. Maryland lost to Georgia, 17-16, in that game. Former Wilde Lake High standout, sophomore free safety Tony Jackson will be out two to four weeks with a sprained knee. Jackson suffered the injury last Saturday against Clemson when he started at strong safety in place of Shawn Forte. Jackson, The Sun's Male Athlete of the Year in 1997, has spent most of the season backing up senior Paul Jackson at free safety.

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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