A short, stocky, walk-on quarterback recently joined the Maryland football team, and until yesterday afternoon, coach Ralph Friedgen didn't know his name.
An introduction to Mitch Levine might finally be in order.
Of the six quarterbacks listed on Maryland's roster at the start of spring, only three remain present and eligible. The decisions of former Maryland quarterbacks Jeremy Ricker and Bobby Sheahin to transfer during the offseason hurt the team's depth, but the news Saturday that speedy backup Josh Portis is ineligible affected the team - and Maryland's offense - significantly.
Portis, who was expected to see playing time this season, is back on the scout team today, where he spent all of last season because of NCAA transfer rules after he left Florida. The university declared Portis ineligible for 2007 because he violated the university's Academic Code of Conduct.
That elevates Chris Turner to No. 2 on the depth chart behind starter Jordan Steffy. Maryland won't run the ball as much when Turner is in because he's not as mobile as Steffy.
Also, Friedgen wanted to redshirt freshman Jamarr Robinson, but he is now the third-string quarterback.
And injuries are now even more of a concern.
"It affects us in a lot of ways," Friedgen said. "Like [Saturday] night, when Chris was in the game, we wanted to get our [starting] linemen out of there due to the risk of injury. But now when you put some of those other kids in, you risk Chris being injured. It really had an effect on our whole team. I don't know if I have the answers for it. We just have to manage it as best we can. It's even a concern somewhat with Jordan carrying the ball."
In his first career start Saturday in the season opener against Villanova, Steffy carried the ball eight times for 47 yards and one touchdown. There were three or four times Steffy ran the ball for at least a 5-yard gain that otherwise might have been a loss. It's an element of the game Friedgen said he doesn't want to lose.
"I don't want to play scared, either," he said. "I think we just have to play smart, and hopefully he stays well. I think sometimes there's more danger in getting hit in the passing game than getting hit in the running game. At least in the running, you normally see it coming. But I do think there's times where he needs to get down and not take a hit, either."
Turner played sparingly with the first team in the third quarter, when Steffy was in the trainers' room nursing a cramp in his right leg. He took over for Steffy in the fourth quarter, and was 4-for-6 for 33 yards and two interceptions.
"I thought he handled himself well on that one drive when the first team was in there, and then he made a couple of mistakes, but nothing beyond the ordinary a guy playing for the first time would make," Friedgen said. "I'm hoping he gets better in time."
Friedgen said he has known about Portis' situation since the end of the spring semester, but said he didn't know "when the final judgment was going to come."
When asked whether Portis could appeal the university's decision, Friedgen said he couldn't talk about it.
Portis' mother, Patricia, said her son did not plagiarize, maintained at least a 2.0 grade point average and was passing all of his classes. She said there was "no premeditated cheating" because he was taking a pop quiz.
"He was tired, just coming in from practice and he made a mistake," Patricia Portis said. "I'd rather him learn from it now than down the road. Everybody in life has made mistakes. Unfortunately it happened to Josh, and he'll be the better person by going through this process."
Friedgen said he would do his best to help Portis continue to grow, but that he has to focus on getting his other players ready to win now.
"It is what it is," Friedgen said. "I just have to deal with it the best I can because I don't know what else to do."
For more of Heather A. Dinich on Josh Portis and the Maryland football team, go to baltimoresun.com/dinich
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