COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland senior linebacker Dave Marrone was elated when he received the news Monday that he was starting against No. 10 Penn State tomorrow.
Fellow senior inside linebacker Mike Jarmolowich was just as happy.
The "thug brothers" are back in the starting lineup, just in time to face Penn State's punishing running attack that is averaging 272.3 yards.
"Me and the big fella again. Maybe we'll have 20 tackles apiece," Jarmolowich, the Terps' leading tackler, said jokingly. "Seriously, this takes some of the pressure off me. He can help me get everybody aligned in this new defense, and I can concentrate more on what I have to do. I know where he is going to be. We played together, side by side, in all 11 games last year."
The tandem was the cornerstone of Maryland's defense last year. Jarmolowich, 6 feet 2, 240 pounds, from Union, N.J., was the team's leading tackler with 153. Marrone, 6-3, 242, from North Babylon, N.Y., was second with 92.
Both were expecting great things this season: Jarmolowich as a possible NFL draftee, Marrone as a potential All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection. Jarmolowich has been outstanding this year, but Marrone's season has been one of frustration.
When new Maryland coach Mark Duffner arrived in January, his emphasis was on speed. Instead of having two "fill" linebackers inside, Duffner wanted only one. The other inside linebacker needed to have speed, enough occasionally to cover a wide receiver.
When Duffner decided Marrone and Jarmolowich had to compete for the fill position, it was goodbye, thug brothers.
It wasn't much of a competition. Marrone missed most of spring practice with ligament damage to his right knee. He was behind Jarmolowich when preseason started.
"At first, we envisioned I would be the fill linebacker, and Mike would be the quick linebacker," said Marrone. "I really wasn't told about the other situation [competing for the same position] until this summer."
It was a major setback for Marrone. He had come to Maryland with blue-chip credentials out of St. John the Baptist High School. He immediately impressed the former Terps coaching staff, playing in four games as a freshman.
He got a lot of playing time as a sophomore, making 45 tackles, and became a starter as a junior. This year, he has only nine tackles while averaging about 20 plays a game.
"Just when I thought I had security, it all started to fall to pieces," said Marrone. "I thought I was going to be a two-year starter, finish my college career strong. It's hard to imagine how I felt. I was used to being on the field on Saturdays, having fun. Then, all the fun was gone.
"But I'm not the type of person to just lay down and die," said Marrone. "I admit that I haven't played as well as I could this year because I have been wrestling with being a backup. Now, though, I've come full cycle, and I don't want to lose it."
The reason for Marrone's return to the starting lineup is probably twofold. Gene Gray, 6-1, 204, was starting at the quick linebacker, but had only eight tackles in three games and was giving up a lot in size.
Penn State (3-0) is a bully team. The Nittany Lions love to use fullbacks Brian O'Neal (6-1, 227, 119 yards), and J.T. Morris (5-11, 211, 126 yards) as lead blockers for halfback Richie Anderson (6-2, 210, 251 yards). Penn State has rushed the ball 144 times in 213 offensive plays this season.
Crunch time is Marrone's specialty.
"The coaches really haven't given me a reason why I'm starting, but maybe it does have something to do with Penn State," said Marrone. "They just line up and shove the ball down your throat. I'm not going to look at this as something permanent, but a day-to-day, week-by-week deal. I'm going to play as hard as I can."
Playing again will be a little easier with Jarmolowich. "Mike kept telling me, 'Don't worry about it. Your time will come,' " said Marrone. "I'm real comfortable with him."
"Dave Marrone has a lot of character," said Jarmolowich. "This is a guy who lost his position, hung in there and didn't quit. He kept his priorities straight by keeping up with his studies [3.4 grade-point average] and continued to practice hard every day. Now he gets his opportunity again. I'm real happy for the big fella."