Cruising on 2-way street at Maryland

Terps: Whether he's playing quarterback or small forward, two-sport star Calvin McCall is one thing for Maryland: an emotional spark plug.

January 13, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Calvin McCall is receiving a crash course in the Atlantic Coast Conference. This time, however, it's without a helmet.

Maryland's starting quarterback has had a rough introduction to what is possibly the nation's top basketball conference as a backup small forward for the No. 18 Terrapins, showing some rust on his shooting stroke and confusion in coach Gary Williams' system.

But like every quarterback is taught, McCall gets right back up after getting sacked.

Although his numbers have slumped, the 6-foot-3, 189-pound redshirt freshman has refused to do the same, continuing to be an emotional spark plug for a Maryland team that sometimes finds itself in neutral. With his dreadlocks flopping, McCall dives headfirst for loose balls, races all over the court and claps his hands at every chance.

So, while his averages of 3.0 points and 2.0 assists may not electrify many observers, McCall is right on pace with the first years of the past two ACC starting quarterbacks-turned-basketball-players: Wake Forest's Rusty LaRue (1993-94) and North Carolina's Ronald Curry (1998-99).

"This [playing two sports] is something I've always wanted to do. I'm used to it," said McCall, who will play his first college basketball game in front of his parents Saturday at Georgia Tech. "My mind is into playing and going from one sport to another."

Maryland football coach Ron Vanderlinden, who has watched McCall twice at Cole Field House and expects him to miss almost a month of spring practice, said: "I'm not surprised by his intensity. I think when you take a football player who goes through contact drills day after day and put him on the basketball court, I think you see the aggressiveness come out."

Said reserve basketball guard Drew Nicholas: "Calvin has brought something different to the table, giving us a lot of excitement. You can feel that when he's out there."

McCall dreamed of playing two sports at a Division I college throughout his days at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., and chose Maryland because it was one of the few schools that promised him the opportunity to play quarterback and play basketball.

He has played football, basketball and baseball since he was 8. In his room, McCall devoted a wall to each sport and covered them up with posters of his favorite players, like Dennis Rodman, with photographs from his games underneath.

"He can't be still long," said his mother, Lola McCall, who remembers her son dribbling a basketball before the age of 2. "He cannot function unless he's doing something."

McCall's first year at college was trying. After redshirting his freshman football season, he became homesick and decided not to try out for the basketball team, going back to Orlando for his semester break.

The next year, McCall won the starting quarterback job over incumbent Randall Jones and highly regarded freshman Latrez Harrison. He led the Terrapins to a 5-2 start and finished No. 2 among Division I-A freshman quarterbacks in passing efficiency and total offense.

But McCall's season ended abruptly in the ninth game, when he tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee and missed the final two games. He worked on rehabilitating his knee twice a day over a 3 1/2-week period and never wavered from dribbling a basketball each night, a routine he started at the beginning of football season.

When team doctors cleared McCall to play Dec. 14, he was at basketball practice that day.

McCall admitted he was concerned about his knee before the start of the first basketball practice. Then, during the three-man weave drill, he put all of his weight on the knee without thinking and has never worried again.

He also wanted the transition with his teammates to be equally smooth.

"We were all thinking, `Can he play at this level, can he make that transition?' " Nicholas said.

A shooting guard who averaged more than 17 points in high school, McCall purposely never shot the ball the first few practices.

He concentrated on being low-key and avoided disrupting the Terrapins' chemistry. This quarterback instead relied on the skills he used as a safety in high school, reading players' eyes to intercept passes on defense.

"I didn't want to do anything spectacular," said McCall, who played against Maryland point guard Steve Blake in Florida's 1998 high school championship game. "I just wanted to help the team, not take away anyone's glory. I think defensively; that's where I could help."

McCall impressed Williams enough for the coach to expand his established player rotation to nine nearly a third of the way into the season.

"It might sound strange when talking about a quarterback, but I didn't know how good of a passer Calvin is," Williams said. "He's always looking to make the extra pass."

In his first two appearances in routs of UMBC and Coastal Carolina, McCall contributed in several areas, totaling 10 points, eight assists, four steals and four rebounds in 30 minutes.

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