UM builds character with bit of class

In 40-huddle curriculum, ex-pro Glover gives young Terps a winning game plan for life

November 16, 2005|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

College Park --The door to Room 1114 in the Gossett Football Team House is closed every Thursday and Sunday night for privacy. A pact was made that everything said in that meeting room stays in there.

The young football players in Maryland's character education program talk about girls, sex and parties. They talk about the NFL and its agents, about the glitz and glam of the professional lifestyle, and the drugs and women that come with it. Some talk about the anger they carry from growing up without fathers, others about the fear of becoming one. They talk about teamwork and trust.

Kevin Glover, a former offensive lineman for the Terps, Detroit Lions and the Seattle Seahawks, is in his second season as the school's first director of character education. The program is a 40-session curriculum for freshman and sophomore football players. Coach Ralph Friedgen said one of its main purposes is to prevent the kind of incident that recently led to the suspension of four players.

Around 1 a.m. on Nov. 1, a fight broke out at a popular College Park bar. After lengthy, thorough interviews with Glover and Friedgen, nine players admitted to having been at the Cornerstone Grill and Loft at the time of the altercation. Three of them admitted their involvement, and said they acted in self-defense. All three were suspended for one game. Numerous others violated team rules by breaking the 11:30 p.m. curfew and drinking alcohol. One player was suspended for underage drinking.

"Once a week we talk to them about these things," Friedgen said. " ... I don't think there's another coach in the country that works as hard as I do at trying to cover all the bases. But you can't be with these kids 24 hours a day. They have to make decisions, and hopefully they make good decisions."

Friedgen, Glover and athletic director Debbie Yow declined to talk specifically about the bar fight and the involvement of the character education initiative, but spoke in general terms about the new program.

The classes are scheduled for 30 minutes, but Glover said they often last closer to 90 because the players "open up and challenge each other on their opinions." Instead of credits toward graduation, they receive guidance and a forum to discuss anything.

"They can get very intense," redshirt freshman fullback Matt Deese said of the sessions. "It depends on the subject content. Sometimes [Glover] asks me to talk about some things that have happened with me before. I've gotten in a lot of trouble. I've done a lot of dumb things. But by the blessings of God and because of Coach Friedgen, I'm still here. He looks at me to share that with the group and everybody who needs to know it. I don't mind talking about it."

Nothing is off-limits.

"They come to me with some pretty personal stuff," said Glover, who attended Largo High in Upper Marlboro. " ... Some of the guys who are sophomores now, [I see] how much they've matured since last year. It doesn't necessarily mean they're starters now and dominating on the team, just knowing where they came from and what some of them have been through and where they are now. I can definitely see it's working."

While Glover's job includes providing programs and speakers for all of the university's varsity sports, his background and the location of his office -- which is in the football building -- naturally have drawn him closer to the football players. The media guide calls him a "liaison between the team and the National Football League," but the players call him a mentor, and say he is one of the few people they feel comfortable talking to about anything.

"If there's anybody with the experience, he's the best guy to talk to," said senior fullback Ricardo Dickerson, who has a 2-year-old son, Deangelo, and had to work his way back into the program after failing out of school. "Some guys who are far away from home, they can't be around their dad or uncles, so you can go talk to him just like a family member."

Utley among lessons

Or a teacher. There are lessons everywhere in Glover's office. One poster behind his desk reads: "Nothing negates a college degree like a positive drug test." Another, "Blasted. Blitzed. Bombed. Buzzed. Comatose. ... No matter what state you're in, rape is against the law."

Some messages are more personal, like the picture on his bookshelf of former Lions teammate Mike Utley, an offensive guard who broke his neck in 1991 and was paralyzed.

"I've seen so many things it's unbelievable," Glover said. "I've seen teammates in the pros who had addictions. ... I've had teammates die [Detroit starting left guard Eric Andolsek, 1992; linebacker Toby Caston, 1994.] As a professional athlete, you almost think you're invincible, that nothing can hurt you. ... But then when you're in a game and see a teammate fall and break his neck and is paralyzed for life, that's the tough part of it."

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