COLLEGE PARK -- Mark Sturdivant is a beacon amid the fog TC of uncertainty hanging over Maryland's defense.
Departed personnel and assorted misfortunes have hurt a defense that was ineffective to begin with in 1992. But the picture is clear at Sturdivant's end spot. An All-East performer last year, Sturdivant expects himself and Maryland to improve.
"Besides Chad [Wiestling], I feel nothing but young or inexperienced players around me," Sturdivant said. "We had a lot of fifth-year seniors last year, and it's going to be hard to fill the void they left, but we can be better.
"This spring people were flying around, more confident with the system," said Sturdivant, the strongest man on the team. "Everyone has more know-ledge of what we have to do to be mentally prepared to play, but we've still got to grow up in a hurry. Last year, I was playing with guys 23 years old, now some of them are 19."
How unsettled is Maryland's defense? The only returning starter in the secondary is academically ineligible, a back injury ended the sack leader's career, injuries are affecting three other regulars, and the top of the depth chart includes a walk-on and a converted running back.
Among last season's top 12 tacklers, Sturdivant and linebacker Wiestling are the only players who are expected to play in the Sept. 4 opener against Virginia. Such is the tenuous nature of the Terps' defense. But Sturdivant is firsthand evidence of what can be done if you apply yourself.
Eight years ago, he was a very large stopper back on his high school's junior varsity soccer team. It happened to be Montgomery County's Springbrook High, which has one of the state's most successful football programs, and a year later Sturdivant gave in to the pressure to play football.
He wasn't a full-time starter until his senior year, when Springbrook beat Winston Churchill and its star running back, Mark Mason, for the state Class 4A championship at Byrd Stadium. Now Sturdivant, Mason and Wiestling are tri-captains.
"It's one of the greatest honors I've ever had, because I wasn't a captain in high school," Sturdivant said. "It shows I've done the right things the past four years."
After a redshirt season in 1989, Sturdivant saw time as an outside linebacker on the 1990 Independence Bowl team. It was a rare moment of success. His sophomore season ended with internal rancor over coach Joe Krivak's departure, and his junior year saw a new system installed by Mark Duffner.
"Five wins in two years is not what I expected," Sturdivant said. "I thought we were on our way to big things.
"I was an outside linebacker in a three-man front as a sophomore, but last year I became an end in a four-man front. It was a drastic change for me, because I had never lined up in a three-point stance before."
Sophomores Aaron Henne and Sharrod Mack are getting looks at the interchangeable nose guard and tackle positions, and Sturdivant said he's learning those spots in case he is moved inside. He's obviously being counted on, along with fellow captain and co-worker Wiestling.
The two spent the summer at the College of Notre Dame, working in a federally funded program serving disadvantaged children. After conducting the President's Physical Fitness Test in the morning, they would shuttle to Maryland for conditioning, readying for some Saturday exams they'll face this fall.
THE STURDIVANT FILE
Name: Mark Sturdivant
Born: July 7, 1971
Height: 6 feet 2
Weight: 260 pounds
Hometown, high school: Silver Spring, Springbrook
1992 numbers: Led down linemen with 80 tackles, 37 unassisted. Had five sacks.
Coach's quote: "Mark means a tremendous amount to us," said Mark Duffner. "The tone he sets for this team is critical. He's a vocal leader, but he demonstrates what he's made of by what he does, not just by what he says."