No slowing down 'Mr. Dependable'

Terps' Oquendo has overcome heart condition and continues to thrive in big games

October 25, 2008|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,jeff.barker@baltsun.com

COLLEGE PARK - Danny Oquendo had felt this before - this flutter. "Back in high school, two or three times before, my heart would just trip out," the Maryland wide receiver and punt returner said.

But this time, it felt different. Worse. "It was a winter workout last February, and I started to get dizzy and short of breath while we were doing sprints in the gym," he said.

A specialist told him he needed surgery for a defect that had left an extra tube in his heart. There was a 1 percent to 3 percent chance he would require a pacemaker, ending his career.

But a few weeks later, the procedure was completed with no pacemaker and Oquendo was back running routes on the practice field, where teammates love to tease the sure-handed senior about his nickname: "Mr. Dependable."

True to his stoic nature, Oquendo hadn't even told his parents about the surgery in advance. His mother, Ana Garcia, was pregnant with twins back in northern New Jersey, and Oquendo said he didn't want her to worry.

"Would you believe he kept the heart surgery situation a secret until after the procedure?" said his father, Daniel Oquendo, a hospital case worker from Lakeland, Fla., who planned to fly up for today's game against North Carolina State wearing his son's jersey. "I found out shortly after. His mom found out through the insurance, and his grandparents and family found out only recently."

Oquendo said he told a few teammates, including roommate Isaiah Williams and fellow receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. Coaches knew, too.

"He's not a guy that says a whole lot," said coach Ralph Friedgen, who calls Oquendo a leader by example. "He's a tough guy, can take a hit over the middle, catch the tough ball and block, and he's a good student. Just a very, very dependable individual."

Hence, the nickname.

"Mr. Dependable!" linebacker Moise Fokou said recently as he passed Oquendo, known for his free-flowing black hair, in a Gossett Football Team House meeting room.

Friedgen said he has been asked whether he might ask somebody speedier than Oquendo to return punts. The coach's reply is that he sleeps better knowing Oquendo isn't likely to muff one. "Until I find a guy that can catch the ball every time, Danny's going to be our punt returner," Friedgen said.

Oquendo has often been forced to overcome - and sometimes overlook - injuries.

Against Clemson last month, he said, "my body wasn't ready to stand up," after a hit in the back of the head left him dazed.

Helped to the sideline, the slot receiver came back with three catches on Maryland's go-ahead touchdown drive in a 20-17 upset.

"It looked like he could have a concussion because he got hit right in the back of the head," quarterback Chris Turner said. "And then he was back in the game. That's just Danny. He's really something else. I think the biggest thing is he's a senior and he doesn't want anything to keep him off the field."

Oquendo, who missed three regular-season games and the bowl game last season because of a knee injury, seems to excel in the biggest games. He had a 50-yard touchdown reception last Saturday in the 26-0 victory over Wake Forest.

The oldest of nine children, Oquendo was raised in Hackensack, N.J., not far from Giants Stadium.

"I was right out of high school, and [Danny's mother] was still in high school when he was born," the elder Oquendo said. "So we went through the turmoil of teenage parents, but we had the support of our own parents."

Two of Danny's uncles played wide receiver at Rutgers and Massachusetts, respectively.

The younger Oquendo always had his eye on professional football - and still does. The criminal justice major is hopeful for a tryout with an NFL team.

For now, Oquendo is thrilled that the Terps have a chance for an Atlantic Coast Conference title that has so far eluded him. "It'd feel so good to go out with that on a senior-heavy team," he said.

His dad is his biggest fan. "I'm Big D, he's Little D," the father said. "I'll cook for him in the dorm. His favorite is rice and beans and pork chops. I'll be the bald dude with the No. 17 jersey."

terps today

Matchup: North Carolina State (2-5, 0-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) at Maryland (5-2, 2-1)

Time: 3:30 p.m.

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

Line: Maryland by 12

Series: Tied at 30-30-4

Last meeting: Maryland won, 37-0, on Nov. 24, 2007, at N.C. State.

Maryland offense vs. N.C. State defense: The weather might play a role. The Terps practiced with wet footballs and concentrated on the running game in their walk-throughs to prepare for possible rain. RB Da'Rel Scott said he's nearing 100 percent after playing with an injured shoulder, and Morgan Green might get some carries after coaches praised his work at practices. The Wolfpack defense is surrendering 30.6 points a game.

Maryland defense vs. N.C. state offense: The Wolfpack has some dangerous players in WR Owen Spencer (20 catches, 405 yards) and freshman WR T.J. Graham, whose 736 yards on kickoff returns are third nationally. The Terps are expected to use Nolan Carroll and Anthony Wiseman primarily at cornerback in the team's first game since losing senior CB Kevin Barnes for the season.

Prediction: Maryland 30, N.C. State 21

Jeff Barker

N.C. STATE @MARYLAND

Today, 3:30 p.m.

Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

Line: Maryland by 12

COMING UP BIG

Danny Oquendo's statistics the past two seasons against nationally ranked teams:

WAKE FOREST (2008): : Three catches for 90 yards, one touchdown

CLEMSON (2008): : Four catches for 49 yards, three punt returns for 17 yards

CALIFORNIA (2008): : Two catches for 24 yards

RUTGERS (2007): : Four catches for 34 yards, one punt return for 12 yards

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