`Cowboy Calvin' tops Terps country charts

UM's freshman QB making sweet music

October 23, 1999|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Ever wonder where a 19-year-old redshirt freshman quarterback goes on a Sunday afternoon to get away from the pressure of trying to lead a once-doormat football program back toward the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference?

Maryland's Calvin McCall escapes to his dormitory room and cranks up his compact disc player to the sounds of Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Clint Black and Bryan White.

Yes, "Country Calvin" has come to the cosmopolitan Washington area, complete with 8-inch dreadlocks, a gold tooth and an intense desire to maintain his identity at all costs.

"I know a lot of people around campus are saying, `Why don't you cut your hair?' " McCall said. "A lot of quarterbacks don't have their hair like me. It's not the usual image of a quarterback.

"But it's just me. I can't change for somebody else. I have to like it myself. I have to do what is going to make me happy. If you don't please yourself, you're not going to do a good job of pleasing other people."

That's why McCall wouldn't even think about hiding his love for country music in an atmosphere in which rock and rap are obviously more popular.

His teammates were the ones who labeled him "Country Calvin," and he loves it.

"Country music relaxes me," he said. "I've been listening to it since the eighth grade. ... I like all the younger country singers."

McCall, 6 feet 3, 189 pounds, has not only turned a lot of heads on the Maryland campus since arriving last year from Orlando, Fla., but he also is making heads spin on the football field these days.

He has been chosen ACC Rookie of the Week twice in six games, has thrown just two interceptions on 128 passes, is fourth in the ACC in total offense with 194.0 yards a game, is fifth in the league in passing efficiency with 123.13 points, is second on the team in rushing with 183 yards and has been cited as one of the nation's top newcomers by some publications.

More important, Maryland is off to a 4-2 start (1-2 in ACC) entering today's 3: 30 p.m. ACC test against North Carolina (1-5, 0-4) at Byrd Stadium, and the team has serious bowl aspirations.

This is only McCall's third season playing quarterback in organized football, and he never got into a game last year as a true freshman. He was a defensive back in high school until his senior year, when he became an instant hit as a quarterback.

McCall has guided a Maryland offense that is averaging 28 points through six games, the best offensive start since 1982, when the Terps averaged 31.7 after six contests.

He has performed well enough for six straight weeks to be 6-0 if his defense had been able to find some answers to two mobile quarterbacks, Georgia Tech's Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Hamilton and Clemson's Woodrow Dantzler.

McCall also has been unselfish enough to get the ball often to All-America candidate LaMont Jordan and let him work wonders running, catching and even throwing.

"As LaMont goes, we go," said McCall. "We're going to ride him all the way. We're going to live and die with him and mix in a couple of passes. I have no problem with that. He's a great runner, a great athlete and he can make things happen at any time of the game."

The quarterback has earned the same kind of respect from his teammates, and displays confidence in his ability to succeed.

"Calvin is so levelheaded and so mature for his age," said Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden. "I'm impressed with the way he's conducted himself mentally. He's made a lot of good decisions in the passing game and very few poor ones. He's handled the check package very well. He very seldom repeats a mistake. I keep waiting for some bumps in the road, but six games into the season I haven't seen many."

Vanderlinden has helped McCall's development by not asking him to do more than he should be capable of at this early stage.

Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary said: "Maryland is doing the right thing with McCall. They're only asking him to read half the field instead of the whole field, and McCall has thrived in that setup."

But the quarterback said he is not satisfied with his passing.

He says he should have more than four touchdown passes and considers his 51.6 percent completion rate (66 of 128 for 981 yards) way too low.

"I think I can throw 60 to 75 percent if I can get a tighter spiral," he said. "I started doing that in practice [Wednesday], and the guys dropped them because they were used to catching my wobbly ones. The spirals travel farther and will give us longer passing plays."

McCall has lived on the edge in the first six games with some of his less-than-artistic passes forced into crowds, but he has almost always escaped trouble.

NOTES: McCall will be matched up against another redshirt freshman quarterback today in North Carolina's Luke Huard, who made his first collegiate start last week in a 20-12 loss to Houston. Huard completed five of 15 passes for 76 yards and one touchdown after taking over the No. 1 duties from two-sport standout Ronald Curry, who is out for the football and basketball season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon. Huard is the youngest of three brothers, all of whom are outstanding quarterbacks. The oldest, Damon Huard, replaced an injured Dan Marino in the first quarter against the New England Patriots last week and rallied the Miami Dolphins to a 31-30 victory. The middle brother is Brock Huard, who was drafted out of the University of Washington last spring by Seattle and is the No. 3 quarterback for the Seahawks.

Terps today

Opponent: North Carolina

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

Time: 3: 30 p.m. TV/Radio: Ch. 2/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Off

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