Waiting game tough for Maldonado

Running back raring to go after rehabbing torn ACL

Maryland notebook

College Football

August 12, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Sam Maldonado will be the first to admit that patience has never been one of his strongest character traits.

Some running backs, like Maryland's Josh Allen, thrive by picking their spots, by taking the handoff, waiting for a hole to develop, then surging through the line with a burst of speed.

Maldonado chooses to do just the opposite. When it was his turn to spell Allen and starter Bruce Perry last season, he'd take the handoff as if he were fired out of a cannon, smashing into anyone who dared step in front of him.

His bruising style earned him the nickname "Sammy the Bull," as well as big chunks of playing time last year (when he averaged 6.0 yards a carry), especially late in games when Terps coach Ralph Friedgen wanted to wear down an opponent. A linebacker or a defensive back might try to tackle Maldonado head-on once, but Maldonado made certain they would think twice before trying it again.

But when the Harrison, N.J., native tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against North Carolina last year, ending his season, he had to learn all about patience. And sitting. And waiting.

"It was the worst," said Maldonado, now a 6-foot, 235-pound senior. "I wanted to come back and play the next game. I tried to convince the doctor I could do it, but he was like, `No way.'"

Maldonado had surgery after the swelling went down, and three months later, he declared himself fit for spring practice. His doctor and Friedgen gave him the blessing to participate, as long as he lived up to one condition: no contact.

"That was a real struggle," Maldonado said. "My mind just doesn't work that way."

The knee is fully healed now, and Maldonado said he's eager to be "Sammy the Bull" again. Yesterday was the first full practice during which he was allowed to make cuts since the injury.

"I've got a lot to prove," Maldonado said. "I've got to show the coaches where I'm at. If I do what I've got to do, with the same running style I know, the coaches are going to have to play me."

QB auditions begin

Maryland's quest to find a starting quarterback officially began yesterday with the first day of practice, though rain and lightning delayed things for close to an hour.

The team practiced in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts, with Joel Statham, Sam Hollenbach, Ryan Mitch and Jordan Steffy taking repetitions with the two-deep offense.

During his media day news conference, Friedgen said he expects Statham to be ahead of the other quarterbacks, but that there is still plenty of room for improvement.

"I've been pleased with Joel for the most part, other than the first half of the spring game," Friedgen said. "His decision-making has been excellent. The ball's going to the right place a lot of the time. What we have to do better is finish the play. We've got to throw the ball more accurately."

Statham said he's not bothered by the amount of buzz Steffy has generated since his arrival. Statham remains the only quarterback with any game experience, having played in three quarters last season in a 7-3 loss to Georgia Tech.

"I think I got a feel for what the game is going to be like," he said. "But the other guys are pretty much as good as I am. It just depends on who is more consistent."

Steffy has been extra careful not to step on anyone's toes, saying it's unrealistic to think he can come in and perform as well as Statham or Hollenbach right away. But he also said he's confident he can pick up the system and make the coaches consider him.

"It's going to be a battle, and it's not going to be easy at all," Steffy said. "But I definitely could envision myself playing."

Suter ready to go

Steve Suter, who had knee surgery for the sixth time this offseason, said he's healthy and ready to go full speed this year. He's also crossing his fingers that things will stay that way. "We'll find out [if the knees will hold up]," he said. "I never know if a cut or move I make is going to tweak it and make it swell up. It's tough because there really isn't any cartilage in either of my knees anymore. It's pretty much just bone on bone now."

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