COLLEGE PARK - Fanatical, workaholic football coaches just can't figure out LaMont Jordan.
They shake their heads in dismay and sometimes in disgust over how Maryland's Heisman Trophy candidate can break all the so-called tried and trusted workout and conditioning rules and still go out on Saturdays and run over, around and through would-be tacklers.
Terps running backs coach Mike Locksley has even called Jordan "something of a freak" as a football player. "He can lay off lifting [weights] and come back even stronger," Locksley said. "He can miss practices and still come out and be the best running back on the field. He has God-given talent."
However, Jordan revealed this week there is another secret to the success that has made him a preseason top 10 Heisman selection by Street & Smith's (top 5), Lindy's (No. 7) and the Sporting News (No. 8).
"Every run I make ... every move I make, I've made at least 35 times a day in my mind," said the 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior. "That's what most people don't realize about football. Everybody thinks about being some kind of barbarian warrior, but you have to have some kind of mental preparation. I mentally prepare for every hit and every cut I make out there."
Jordan said there were two more factors in his nation-leading, six-game 1,101-yard spurt to the finish line last season. "I came out on Saturday afternoons and put my heart into everything I did because of the fans, and I've been blessed with the knowledge of knowing this is also an emotional as well as physical game. That's what gets me through it."
Jordan also has a keen sense of the bottom line in college football.
"I look at myself as an entertainer and a showman on Saturday afternoons," he said. "The fans want to see me break long runs and score touchdowns. They want to be entertained. They don't sit in the stands and say things like 'LaMont missed practice Tuesday' or 'LaMont didn't lift weights this week.' "
Jordan certainly entertained the Byrd Stadium fans to the hilt on Nov. 20 when he rushed for a school single-game record of 306 yards, including a 90-yard touchdown dash and a 9-yard scoring run. But Maryland's defense faltered in the final minute, allowing Virginia to pull out a 34-30 victory that left Jordan in tears and Maryland bowl-less because of four straight losses to end the season.
The Terps (5-6 last season) were only 1-5 during Jordan's six-game rushing show to end the season, mostly because opponents averaged 36 points in those five setbacks.
So, Jordan obviously will need the Maryland defense to improve vastly this season and the offensive line to continue the strong effort it gave last season, if he hopes to make a strong run for the Heisman and lead the team to a bowl game.
"I didn't say much about a bowl game my first three years here," he said. "But now I'm saying 'I fully expect us to go to a bowl game.' Anything less would not be successful. And for me personally, anything less than a top-three finish in the ACC would not be successful."
It's probably safe to count on Jordan and the Maryland offense scoring enough points to win at least eight games, even though two second-team All-ACC picks, left tackle Brad Messina and right guard Jamie Wu, have departed.
Redshirt freshman Eric Dumas and senior Tim Howard have battled their way to "co-starter" status at left tackle, and the same is true at right guard where sophomore Bob Krantz and redshirt freshman Lamar Bryant are locked in a dead heat. The heart and soul of the offensive line is junior center Melvin Fowler, who has received some preseason All-America notice.
Senior Maryland fullback Matt Kalapinski said, "We can't afford to lose Melvin. He's a big part of everything we do on offense. He missed our last scrimmage with a rotator cuff, but he'll play against Temple." Joining Fowler as returning starters on the offensive line are two sophomores, right tackle Matt Crawford and left guard Todd Wike.
Maryland assistant coaches Elliot Uzelac and Bob Heffner have produced minor miracles with the offensive line in past seasons, and nothing figures to change this year.
At quarterback, there is some experience for a change with redshirt sophomore Calvin McCall and junior college transfer Shaun Hill expected to share the duties until one emerges as a clear-cut starter. They will be directing a wide-open passing attack that coach Ron Vanderlinden said is similar to the "West Coast offense."
Now comes the scary part of the equation, the Maryland defense, especially the line and the secondary.
Senior defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, 6 feet 5, 292 pounds, needs to cast aside his too-soft image and live up to his billing as the strongest player in Maryland football history. Jenkins is a monster in the weight room, but hasn't transferred that power to the field in three seasons (1.5 sacks total).
Junior nose tackle Charles Hill also is a big key to the defensive line as he replaces Delbert Cowsette (drafted by the Washington Redskins) and has to provide some of the leadership that Cowsette did as a senior.
The rest of the Maryland defense has a major Baltimore-area flavor, beginning with newly elected tri-captain Aaron Thompson. The junior outside linebacker from Forest Park and Mount St. Joe has started all 22 games in two seasons and should be headed toward first-team All-ACC honors this season.
Thompson will have a chance to step more into the limelight this year, as Vanderlinden will use him in nickel blitzing situations.
Junior Tony Jackson (Wilde Lake) has completed a comeback from a broken foot that cost him almost all of the 1999 season, and he has regained his No. 1 strong safety position from junior Rod Littles. Jackson boosts a secondary that must have consistent play out of highly regarded junior Tony Okanlawon and redshirt freshman Curome Cox to have any hope of stopping the likes of Florida State.
Senior tri-captain Shawn Forte is back at the No. 1 free safety spot and the Terps are hoping he will finally reach the heights they have predicted for him in past seasons.
Two sophomores, inside linebacker E. J. Henderson (Aberdeen) and defensive end Durrand Roundtree (Lansdowne) made stirring runs for starting positions in preseason camp, completing the Baltimore-area connection. Henderson was given a slight opening by Kevin Bishop's brief absence because of assorted injuries, and he took advantage.
Henderson drew high praise from his Harford County teammate at Maryland, wide receiver Scooter Monroe. "E. J. is a 100 percent beast," said Monroe in slight awe. "When you're young and growing up and playing football, E. J. is the player you want to be like. He's the nicest guy off the field but never stops on the field."
Roundtree also used a lot of aggressive play late in camp to charge into a "co-starter" spot with redshirt sophomore William Shime.
Morgan preview: Defensive tackle Phillip Pendergrass, who graduated in May but remains eligible because of an injury, hopes to help the Bears to their first winning season in more than two decades. [Page 10d]