A lesson in honesty

`Try not to make ... mistake I made,' Portis tells students

October 23, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

Hyattsville -- Maryland quarterback Josh Portis had a confession to make, and a small cafeteria filled with wide-eyed, waist-high elementary school students looked up at him yesterday morning, waiting for it.

"I told them," he said. "I was like, `Unfortunately I made a mistake in the classroom by looking on somebody's paper.'"

It was a mistake that cost Portis his eligibility for the 2007 season - a year, as it turned out, the Terps definitely would have used him - and one he told the students at Lewisdale Elementary School not to repeat. Portis, speaking publicly for the first time since being reprimanded for cheating on a pop quiz before the Sept. 1 season opener against Villanova, talked for about five minutes and told the students to be faithful and honest, and "the truth will set you free."

"I was just telling the kids you have to work hard every day in the classroom," he said. "Life is going to be challenging. Unfortunately, I made a mistake. Try not to make the same mistake I made."

It was the first of about three schools Portis said he plans to visit at the urging of his mother, Patricia. The university has not required Portis to volunteer anywhere.

Portis, the fastest quarterback on the team, is in his second season with the scout team. After transferring from Florida, he was sidelined last season because of NCAA transfer rules. He entered this season as No. 2 on the depth chart, and had he not violated the university's code of academic integrity, Portis likely would have started the previous two games and this Saturday's game against Clemson.

Starter Jordan Steffy has missed the past 2 1/2 games with a concussion, and Chris Turner - once the third-string quarterback - has flourished in their absence.

Despite his frustration, Portis said none of it is directed at his teammates.

"It was tough to see Jordan fall because he worked so hard for it," he said. "I was really sad for Jordan. He's waited a long time. I'm praying for him, as well."

Portis said he studies his playbook every day and that during three-on-three drills, he gets repetitions with the first team. He used to work out with the first team during the option drill, but the Terps haven't worked on that lately, Portis said. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said all the quarterbacks get an equal number of reps during fundamental work and that Portis takes part in running drills every Tuesday and Wednesday.

"The actual running plays with the first team, I've got trouble enough getting [quarterback] Jamarr Robinson ready to worry about Josh Portis," Friedgen said. "He ain't gonna play Saturday, I can tell you that. What would I want to be working with him for? I have enough problems."

Asked yesterday why he didn't transfer, Portis said, "You can't run away from your problems all your life.

"You have to stick through them. You can't keep running away from something you got yourself into. I got myself in this situation, I've got to get myself out. Everybody's not perfect. Good people make mistakes. ... It'll take a lot to break me."

Friedgen has said he plans to start from scratch at quarterback next season and reopen the competition - a scenario that Portis hangs on to every day.

"It's been tough man, real tough," he said. "I don't even know how I'm getting through it. By the grace of God, that's the only thing that's getting me through this tough situation. It's really brutal. I could be out there helping guys, making an impact."

Now he's trying to make one in the classroom instead.

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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