Terps senior Wike eager to hold line

Now at center, he's ready to atone for bowl absence

College Football

August 29, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - A chance to help the Terps get to the big game is what attracted Todd Wike to Maryland. Yet, when he got to the big game earlier this year in the Orange Bowl, he was sitting on the sideline.

Now a senior, he earned first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors at left guard on a Maryland team that finished 10-2 last year.

"It was so fulfilling to accomplish the thing that I came here for," Wike said.

But in a practice days before the bowl, then-center Melvin Fowler accidentally stepped on Wike's right foot, breaking it, and leaving the Lebanon, Pa., native with regrets about what he had missed.

"I feel like I let the team down a bit; it felt real at the time," he said recently. "I think I did everything I could at the time [to get back]. If I had [played], it still would have been better for the team to have Kyle Schmitt in there."

Wike gets a chance in another nationally televised game Saturday night when his team goes to East Rutherford, N.J., to play Notre Dame in the Kickoff Classic.

The context is somewhat different. Wike is switching to center, where he backed up Fowler in his sophomore year.

It's not his favorite position, as coach Ralph Friedgen noted - "Todd is not fond of playing center" - but he's accepted the task, which is coming back to him. "With more reps, I think I feel comfortable with it," Wike said.

As one of the few seniors on the offense, Wike, 6 feet 3, 303 pounds, also finds himself having to provide more leadership.

"If things are a little lackadaisical, I try to get emotion up on the team," said Wike, who finished his philosophy degree in May and plans to pursue a career in law. "Now that I'm the senior on the line, I've got to play that role."

For the most part, however, Wike hasn't needed fire and brimstone to lead. Perhaps that comes from his days at Lebanon High School in southeastern Pennsylvania, where he was a four-sport standout - also participating in basketball, track and baseball - and also finished No. 2 in his class with a 4.3 grade-point average.

College recruiters came to the former steel town and current bedroom community to look at Wike, rated the nation's No. 6 tight end prospect as a senior in high school.

During his official recruiting visit to Maryland, as a 17-year-old, he was sold by then-coach Ron Vanderlinden and the vision of playing Florida State in Byrd Stadium for the Atlantic Coast Conference title.

"That sent chills up my spine," Wike recalled. "He sold me on coming to a place where you have a chance to make a difference."

Coming in as a tight end in 1998, Wike moved to center before moving to left guard in 1999, making his first start with a broken right hand.

Though the Terrapins went 10-12 during his first two seasons, he said he believed Vanderlinden had Maryland on the right track. So he was upset when the school fired the coach after the 2000 season.

"I thought we were very close [to becoming winners]," Wike said, explaining his disappointment at the time. Looking at the team's performance last season, he said: "I guess we definitely were. I didn't know what was going to happen, and it felt like it might be for nothing."

This past summer, Wike interned with Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Durke Thompson. Before the 2001 season began, Wike, frustrated with football, had contemplated taking his degree and running straight to law school, according to Tom Jordan, Wike's football coach in high school.

But something changed at Maryland.

"As they started to win, he got his enthusiasm back up," Jordan said. "It's a great thing he did, because I think he's going to go to the next level."

If Wike can help it, he'll put off law school, hoping to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL. "If the opportunity is there, I definitely want to do that," he said. "If I have a good year, stay injury-free, I definitely have a shot."

NOTES: Linebacker E.J. Henderson sat out most of yesterday's practice with a sore back, though he's expected to play Saturday. Henderson sat out spring practice after undergoing back surgery. ... Reserve lineman Ed Tyler has returned to practice while recovering from a foot injury. He is not expected to play on Saturday. ... Friedgen practiced on the field hockey turf in an effort to get the Terps ready for bad weather but ended the session a little early.

Next for Terps

Opponent:Notre Dame in Kickoff Classic

Site:Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

When:Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 2/WIYY (97.9 FM)

Line:Notre Dame by 2

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