Walk-on walks away

Holder forced to leave team because of scholarship rule

Football

August 22, 2008|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun reporter

COLLEGE PARK - Matt Goldberg is no longer a Terrapin. He says that's OK. He says it was time to focus on his graduate business degree, to move on with his life.

But it's not hard to detect a longing in the voice of the former wide receiver and holder, whose football career is over even though he has a year of eligibility remaining. It ended before the player - who some fans call Maryland's "Rudy"- could fulfill his ambition of catching a pass.

Goldberg, 22, was a walk-on in a scholarship world. For three years, the former Mount St. Joseph captain, who passed up opportunities at smaller schools to attend Maryland, labored near the bottom of the depth chart as a nonscholarship player. Eager for playing time, he willingly accepted a job as the holder on extra points and field goals. He appeared in all 13 games last season without mishandling a snap.

This season, Goldberg hoped to again be the holder and to compete for time at receiver. He wanted to catch at least one pass.

But he learned before spring practices that he could no longer walk on. He had accepted a scholarship in March from the university's M Club, which assists former Terps players, to pursue a master's degree in business administration. What he didn't know - at least not immediately - was that his scholarship would count against the team limit of 85.

Under NCAA rules, Goldberg was now a "counter," defined as "an individual who is receiving institutional financial aid that is countable against the aid limitations in a sport."

Because he could no longer walk on, it was left to coach Ralph Friedgen to find scholarship room for Goldberg.

But Friedgen says he can't do that.

"Here's my dilemma," Friedgen says. "I would love to have him back, but I'm at 85 and it would put me over the top. He's a holder, and I can't ask a kid to forgo a scholarship. Things could change. Somebody could leave the team, but I've got other kids who are walk-ons who are maybe more deserving because he's a holder."

The other walk-ons include Paul Pinegar, who began August practices as the second-team right offensive tackle.

Walk-ons were popularized by Rudy, the 1993 movie about an undersized football player who dreamed of suiting up for Notre Dame. Walk-ons often face long odds to play in Division I programs that have invested heavily in scholarship players' success.

"It seems like you have to fight every semester for that spot," says Goldberg, 6 feet 2, 193 pounds, who redshirted his freshman year. "Whereas somebody on scholarship just has to maintain, you start out every camp on the bottom of the depth chart."

Goldberg's absence is disappointing to fans and others familiar with his story.

"I think he was Maryland's 'Rudy,' " says Jess Atkinson, the former Maryland and NFL kicker who produces the Terrapins Rising reality show. "Having gone through being a walk-on myself, he was one of those guys you always root for."

Larry Grabenstein, chairman of the Maryland Gridiron Network booster group, says: "He's not the biggest guy or the fastest guy, but he's got a lot of heart. Every program has someone like him."

Goldberg, whose MySpace page has a Terrapins background and logos and a photo of his old locker, says he isn't bitter. But he acknowledges regrets.

"It's hard to end your career like that. It kind of leaves a bad taste because I didn't really accomplish completely what I set for myself," Goldberg says.

"I did get one pass my way in San Francisco [at past season's Emerald Bowl], but it was at my feet. Chris [Turner] was rolling out and it was an off-balance pass," he says.

Among his former teammates, place-kicker Obi Egekeze is sure to miss Goldberg most. The kicker and holder spent hours last season practicing their timing.

"I'm still fighting to get him back right now," Egekeze says, shaking his head. "You develop such a good relationship, such a good chemistry."

Punter Travis Baltz has emerged as the leading contender to hold in Goldberg's absence.

Goldberg almost lost the holder's job before the 2007 season began.

He mishandled his first snap in spring practice, prompting Friedgen to bark at him: "You've got to be able to handle that!"

"It was our first spring practice. It was about 25 degrees and it was snowing," Goldberg recalls. "The footballs were frozen and my hands were frozen. I kind of double-clutched it."

Goldberg heard Friedgen thought he might be too nervous to hold in a game.

"That kind of insulted me," Goldberg says. "But it pushed me to do better."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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