COLLEGE PARK - If Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden decides to start LaMont Jordan tonight in the long-awaited season opener against Temple at Byrd Stadium, the coach will have the full support of tri-captain Aaron Thompson.
"If I were Coach Vanderlinden, I would go with the best back. If you want to win, go with the better back. That's what it comes down to," said Thompson.
"LaMont has learned his lessons. He is ready to go. He's done a pretty good job at practice. He has done his extra conditioning and I think the team is noticing that."
Even though Jordan has been listed as a Top 10 Heisman Trophy candidate by three national magazines, Jordan said two weeks ago he didn't think he deserved to start the opener because he missed all of spring practice and 14 practices due to academic problems. When asked again this week about starting in the 6 o'clock battle against 1-0 Temple, Jordan said simply, "It's the coach's decision."
Vanderlinden's response this week to the Jordan issue was, "Those are personal things. It will be handled internally."
It would certainly be a rare occasion if a Heisman hopeful did not start the first game of the season. The season opener is important for any Heisman candidate but it becomes much more critical for Jordan, who needs to roll up a lot of yardage early to make up ground on the likes of Michael Vick, Drew Brees and Chris Weinke.
The Terps probably need to finish second to Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference and Jordan has to gain at least 2,000 yards to thrust him into strong contention for the Heisman.
Jordan could reach 2,000 yards if he gets off to a decent start because he compiled 1,632 yards last year in spite of a 41-yard effort in the opener against Temple. But many believe it would take a minor miracle for Maryland to surpass Clemson, Virginia, Georgia Tech and North Carolina in the ACC.
Many Maryland players are saying the forecasters are all wrong and are vowing to prove it.
"I'm all gassed up now for Temple and the rest of the season," said junior linebacker Marlon Moore, the team's leading tackler last season with 130. "We're so much better this season than last [5-6]."
Moore is especially high on the Terps' defensive backs. "Our DBs were taking on balls like never before in our 7-on-7 drills this summer," he said. "We have DBs now who can sit there and cover from four to five seconds."
Senior fullback and tri-captain Matt Kalapinski said, "It's going to happen this year. This team is ready. I can't wait to get the season started. I'm not worried about our offensive line like some people are. We're a little banged up, but those guys will all be ready to play."
The main problem facing the Maryland defense tonight is figuring out how to slow down Temple's flashy sophomore Tanardo Sharps, who is one local recruit that got away from the Terps. Sharps rushed for 3,660 yards and 49 touchdowns in two seasons at Meade High and then prepped for a year at Fork Union.
Sharps, 5 feet 9 and 174 pounds, began to arrive last season when he averaged 7.4 yards on 25 carries for the 2-9 Owls. "That was kind of amazing," said Temple coach Bobby Wallace this week. "He averaged 7 yards for a team that couldn't run against anybody last year. Tanardo has great quickness and a lot of heart. A lot of the yards he gained against Navy last week were on second efforts."
Sharps had the kind of homecoming every college football player dreams about at Navy, rushing for 180 yards on 31 carries in a 17-6 victory.
"Sharps is a threat to take it the distance every time he gets clear," said Vanderlinden. "He had legitimate speed in high school and is still very fast."