COLLEGE PARK -- They are the last of "Bobby's Boys."
Twenty-five of them, all scholarship freshmen signed by football coach Bobby Ross and regarded as one of the top 15 recruiting classes in the country, came to the University of Maryland in the summer of 1986. They were filled with hope for bowl bids, national rankings and Atlantic Coast Conference championships.
But thus far, none of their goals has been achieved.
Since that summer, Maryland's football class of 1990 has had to bear up under the consequences of basketball star Len Bias' death, including tighter academic standards, the arrival of a new head coach and the university's failure to provide modern facilities.
There are only 15 players left from the class, two of them walk-ons. And even though the Terps (5-3 overall, 3-2 ACC) don't have a good shot at the ACC championship, they still are in contention for their first bowl bid and winning season since 1985.
Dreams still exist.
"I don't feel slighted about what has happened here," said senior running back Doug Stump, one of the walk-ons. "It's life, and you have to deal with the hand that you're dealt. The problems here could have happened at any school. The big thing is that we're starting to come out of it."
Senior inside linebacker Glenn Page said: "Those who stayed here have become better people because we went through some rough times that helped strengthen us for the rest of our lives. We knew we had a good class, and we stayed to prove it. Playing Division I football is about bowl games and national rankings. That's still my dream. We deserve a bowl game because of all the things we went through. What I like is that we have a chance to determine that ourselves by winning."
Coach Joe Krivak says that attitude is what makes this group of players so special. It's not that they are so talented; there isn't a No. 1 draft pick among them. But they have faced adversity for so long that they refuse to quit.
According to Krivak, that never-say-die attitude explains in part why Maryland has won four games in the last four minutes.
"This group has been very tight, and the senior leadership has been outstanding," said Krivak. "They play until the final second. Yes, I'm a little surprised that we still have so many left, but that's why we have won. We have a good nucleus."
This nucleus had so many chances to fall apart. Months before the players stepped on campus, Bias suffered a cocaine-induced death on June 19, 1986.
Senior quarterback Scott Zolak, already committed to Maryland, was at his home in Monongahela, Pa., watching "Leave It To Beaver" when he heard the report.
"It was something like 2:30 in the morning when I see the flash on the news," said Zolak. "I thought, holy cow, you got to be kidding. At the time, though, I was a naive kid. I didn't know the magnification that it would eventually have on the program."
Soon after Bias' death, Maryland officials focused their attention on academics and implemented tighter standards, a move that eventually decreased the number of top athletes that Maryland could recruit.
The new standards, along with false promises about better facilities, influenced Ross' decision to resign from Maryland the last week in November 1986. That season was the first in which Maryland didn't win the ACC since 1982 and the first in which it didn't appear in a bowl since 1981.
"He had told us he was going to stay for another four years when he recruited us," said Page. "After Thanksgiving Day that year, he told us to come back that Monday only to tell us he was leaving. When pressure started building up, he backed out. He didn't stick here with the rest of us. I even thought about transferring because so much was happening."
A lot of Page's other classmates also thought about transferring. nTC And some did, including one who has started at quarterback for the Naval Academy. Others flunked out, one is driving a truck and another is a policeman who graduated early, but the majority remained through the stressful times.
Since the arrival of Krivak, who replaced Ross, Maryland has struggled to 4-7, 5-6 and 3-7-1 records from 1987 through last year.
There was some tough luck along the way. Injuries to key players hurt the Terps in 1987, and a seemingly completed pass was ruled incomplete on a two-point conversion attempt in a 24-23 loss to Virginia in the final game of the 1988 season. Last year, the Terps lost three times by four points.
"When I first came here, Maryland had won the league championship and went to the Cherry Bowl," said senior tight end Vance Phillips, a walk-on for four years who was given a scholarship last summer. "So I thought I had at least two more bowls in my future. Then we started going through some bad times, and it crossed my mind, being a walk-on, why do this? I'm not getting paid for it. As a matter of fact, I was paying out of my own pocket."
Payday could come at the end of this season, with 10 players from the class of 1990 performing in starting roles. Page &L; (team-leading 76 tackles), outside linebacker Jack Bradford (53 tackles, team-leading five sacks), Barry Johnson (27 receptions, 531 yards, two touchdowns), offensive tackle Clarence Jones (continually graded above 80 percent by the line coach) and nose guard Rick Fleece (43 tackles) are having All-ACC-type years. Zolak is second in the conference in total offense, having completed 176 of 307 passes for 1,997 yards.
But this group doesn't want to be remembered for honors and awards.
It wants to leave behind a winning record and have one bowl appearance.
"When I first came here, younger guys wouldn't hang around with the older guys," Johnson said. "But nobody here is better than anybody else, maybe because we don't have that superstar. The older guys are encouraging the younger ones, telling them that they can be a part of the overall success. We've always tried to lead by example. You want to leave the younger guys with that taste, that feeling of being in a bowl or a winning season. Nobody wants to be a part of the losing."