Turn down the volume on Jordan Heisman talk

September 22, 2000|By Mike Preston

COLLEGE PARK - University of Maryland running back LaMont Jordan's run for the 2000 Heisman Trophy has always been more hype than substance.

That's not a knock on Jordan, a senior who might be the first or second running back chosen in the latter part of the first round of the NFL draft in April. It's also not based on the fact that Jordan has only 100 yards rushing in Maryland's first two games against Temple and West Virginia.

It's just plain, cold reality. The Heisman Watch is more than just a race to find the best player in college football. It's also a popularity contest based on a number of pre-determined elements beyond Jordan's control, such as national TV exposure, Top 25 ranking and school name recognition as well as Jordan playing for a team that doesn't have a good quarterback or a quality offensive line.

It's understandable why the University of Maryland would promote Jordan. It's great for the kid, the school, the Atlantic Coast Conference and recruits, who get wide-eyed when they hear Maryland has a Heisman Trophy candidate.

But let's not get carried away anymore.

"I think he has a lot of ability," said James Harris, the Ravens' Pro Personnel Director who watched Jordan play in the opener against Temple. "He didn't have the big numbers in that game, but he showed that he can get yards on his own. He also has good hands as a receiver and can make things happen after the catch. The skill is there. But as for winning the Heisman, you have to post some incredible numbers or be in the hunt for the national championship."

Hmmm. National championship. The last time Maryland won one of those was 1953. The last time the Terps won an ACC title was 1985. Heck, the last time Maryland had a winning season was 1995.

Terps coach Ron Vanderlinden doesn't believe a team has to be a contender for the national championship to have a player in consideration, but it helps as well as a ranking in the Top 25.

Let's see. The last time Maryland was ranked was in ...

Never mind.

Jordan, though, at least had impressive numbers last year. He rushed for 1,632 yards in 11 games, and was the nation's top rusher over the last six games. He is the Terps' all-time rushing leader with 3,327 yards.

But Jordan still won't get as much exposure as players from Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame and Penn State, or quarterbacks Michael Vick of Virginia Tech or Florida State's Chris Weinke.

Florida State is in contention for a national championship every year. They are constantly on the tube, and Weinke has a great supporting cast. Vick's team played Weinke's for the national title last year, and if the Hokies aren't on national TV, Vick's every move is on "SportsCenter."

He may be the best college athlete on the planet.

Jordan will get two shots on the national stage. He got one last week against West Virgina, that sensational 38-yard rushing effort, and then on Sept. 28 when the Terps (1-1) play Florida State.

Oh, there goes that Weinke fella again.

"That could change," said Vanderlinden of the two national TV games. "ABC has told us we could be on more depending how we're going. The ACC continues to tell us that we're a key team in the conference because we've got the fourth-largest TV market in the country. That's what gives LaMont a chance to get national exposure. We have to do well, but we certainly haven't made that splash for far. Right now, we're a slow ripple.

"If we can get LaMont going in the next week, two or three weeks, then who knows what may happen," said Vanderlinden. "I think our boy better break loose pretty quick, though."

That could be a problem, though. Jordan had a slow start last season with an experienced offensive line. Going into this season, Maryland had to replace virtually three starters on the offensive line in left tackle Brad Messina, right guard Jamie Wu and tight end John Waerig. All three were second-team All-ACC and had free-agent tryouts in the NFL.

Three of the current starters on the offensive line are sophomores, while tight end Jeff Dugan is a redshirt freshman. Left tackle Tim Howard is a senior, but a first-year starter. The Terps also had to shuffle players because of injuries during training camp.

No wonder Jordan has only 100 yards rushing. Sometimes he is getting hit as soon as he takes the handoff.

"I don't think we're playing up to our abilities yet," said center Melvin Fowler. "We're making mistakes we shouldn't be making. But we're working hard continuing to work week by week, and we'll get better. We're fairly young, but we're working hard to succeed."

So are quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Calvin McCall. Hill is a better passer, and McCall a better runner. The Terps have solid receivers, but the passing game suffers some with McCall. Jordan is the constant weapon.

But he didn't help himself by missing spring practice and part of training camp because of academic problems.

"I think he is shaking off some rust and will regain his quickness. Around midseason, he might revert back to old form," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

Vanderlinden disagrees.

He said Jordan reported to the Terps in the best shape of his college career, and he feels confident he will break loose soon, especially when the Terps can get him on the perimeter. It's just a matter of time before the Terps work it out with Jordan, the quarterbacks and the offensive line, according to the coach.

And it will eventually work out. Jordan, 5 feet 10 and 219 pounds, is a north and south runner with a low center of gravity and 4.45 speed in the 40. He is the prototype back the NFL teams want. He'll have a solid year, and he'll end up one of the best running backs in the country. He'll probably get drafted in the first round if he overcomes the rap of having a poor work ethic in the classroom and in the weight room.

But there doesn't seem to be much chance for a Heisman. Actually, there never was.

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