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Starks a virtual defensive force for Terrapins

COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK - It may sound like carefully crafted doublespeak, but when Randy Starks wants to relax, there is nothing he enjoys more than being Randy Starks.

All he needs is a television and a Sony PlayStation.

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"I like just kicking back with some friends and playing college football," said Starks, who is equally loyal to the Terps in the video game world. "It's pretty cool to see yourself on the game, making tackles and talking trash."

It also doesn't hurt that the virtual Randy Starks is practically impossible to block on the defensive line. He terrorizes quarterbacks and shuts down the running game by dominating offensive linemen. In many ways, it mirrors reality, save one minor detail: The video game Starks never takes a play off.

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"Randy Starks, if he wants to be, can be as good a player as anyone," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "Sometimes, though, I question how much he wants it."

It's a reality even Starks will concede.

"One thing about me is, I know I can be lazy," Starks said. "But when I get my motor running, or get excited, it's pretty hard to block me. That's not being cocky or anything, that's just how I feel."

Few athletes in the country possess Starks' combination of size (6 feet 4, 305 pounds) and strength. He can bench press 440 pounds and set a school record with a 765-pound squat, yet he's retained the athleticism that made him a standout basketball player at Westlake High School in Waldorf.

Though he was recruited hard by Michigan, Virginia Tech and Penn State, he surprised plenty of people when he chose to stay close to home.

"When I came here with my visit, I felt like I bonded with the players," Starks said. "I felt right at home. It just felt like I belonged here all along. It was real important [to play close to home] because I knew if I went someplace [far away], my family would only get to see me once every two years or something."

His family got to see him blossom last year, when Starks, in his first year as a starter, made 93 tackles, was second on the team with 6 1/2 sacks and earned second-team Atlantic Coast Conference honors as a sophomore. Against North Carolina State, Starks knocked down passes on consecutive fourth-quarter drives, forcing the Wolfpack to punt twice in crucial situations.

With all that potential, it wasn't long before Starks' name was being tossed around as a future NFL first-round pick. Plenty of eyes will be on him this season, wondering if he can dominate on a regular basis.

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"He's as good as I've played against," said Maryland center Kyle Schmitt, who goes up against Starks every day in practice. "I've played against Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims [when they were at] North Carolina and he's as good as any of them. When it comes to strength, I don't think anyone is stronger. He's a beast."

Sometimes it's just a matter of motivating that beast, on the field and in the classroom. It has forced Friedgen to dip into his bag of coaching tricks more than once. He even had his wife, Gloria, tutor Starks in one of his biology courses.

"I also had Randy's girlfriend come up to my office for a little chat," Friedgen said. "She's in the business school and has about a 3.2 average. I said, 'Why don't you take Randy out on a few study dates, eh?' "

"He can do it when he wants to, and the same is true of football. ... He's been turning it up lately. When he gets going, he is a load to block."

And you don't even need a television to see it.

NOTES: Right tackle Eric Dumas sat out of practice yesterday, hoping to rest his left arthritic knee, which Friedgen said has been bothering him lately. ... Running back Sam Maldonado, who missed both practices Tuesday with a hip injury, returned to practice yesterday. ... Defensive lineman Kevin Eli practiced for the first time since being checked into a Baltimore hospital with an irregular heartbeat. ... Friedgen said the team most likely will practice under the lights on Monday in an attempt to prepare for the atmosphere of Northern Illinois' Huskie Stadium.

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Terps' opener

Opponent:Northern Illinois

When:Next Thursday, 7:35 p.m.

Where:Huskie Stadium, DeKalb, Ill.

TV/Radio:CN8/WBAL (1090 AM)


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