COLLEGE PARK - It was a savage hit, even by major college football standards. Rutgers safety Joe Lefeged flung himself at Jordan Steffy, crashing into the Maryland quarterback last season with an unnerving, helmet-to-helmet crack.
Steffy, who walked haltingly up the locker-room stairs and remained forgetful and occasionally disoriented for several weeks after suffering a concussion in the Sept. 29 game, was set to graduate in the spring, and his once-promising career seemed all but over.
But as he contemplated his future, Steffy became determined that this wasn't going to be the last hit he took on a football field. He wasn't ready for his career to end. At least not like that.
So, after obtaining the requisite medical clearances, Steffy - who had lost the quarterback job to Chris Turner - passed up several promising job opportunities and enrolled in Maryland's real estate-development graduate program.
Then, last spring, he decided to use his final year of eligibility - he had redshirted his sophomore season - to try to write a new ending to his football story.
"It was important for me to finish this chapter of my life," Steffy said in an interview at the football complex as he iced his right arm after a recent practice.
Offensive coordinator James Franklin said he understands Steffy's motivation perfectly. "It's like all of us. We're all kind of hopeless romantics who want the story to end well. We've all been programmed that way from TV and movies. Everybody wants the happy ending."
Even after winning the starting job in preseason camp, Steffy knows his happy ending isn't guaranteed. Many fans have aligned with multidimensional quarterback Josh Portis or with Turner, who started last season's final eight games and completed 63.5 percent of his passes as the Terrapins went 3-5.
"I didn't give him the job. He earned it," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said of Steffy. "When he graduated, he could have said, 'See you later.' But he didn't. He never stopped working, he never sulked, he never moaned."
Some fans and friends worry about Steffy's multiple concussions. His biggest fan - his mother, Shari Steffy - said she has consulted with a doctor she trusts and is comfortable her son is healthy enough to play.
But she didn't always feel that way.
Jordan Steffy was cleared to play toward the end of last season, getting into games briefly against Florida State and North Carolina State. His mother, who runs a day-care center in Lancaster County, Pa., and travels to games with relatives in the family's sport utility vehicle, did not approve.
"I felt very strongly he should not play at the end of last year," she said. "He had headaches for quite a while and short-term memory loss. Football is a game, and that's his health."
But this season is different, she said.
"He knows he has talent, and I don't mean in an arrogant way," she said. "It was obviously frustrating for him to end the season with a concussion that way."
The Atlantic Coast Conference ruled that the hit from Lefeged should have been flagged. Two weeks after the game, Lefeged hit Syracuse quarterback Andrew Robinson (Calvert Hall) high and caused a fumble. The Syracuse coach called the hit "vicious" and said the officials should have called a penalty for a helmet-to-helmet collision.
The hit on Robinson frustrated Steffy even more, he said. Left unsaid is that the hits - the one he endured and the one suffered by his Syracuse counterpart - seemed to motivate him.
"Right before spring ball, I said, 'OK, listen, I'm going to go for this thing,' " Steffy said. "And I knew that the odds were stacked up against me even to play. Chris had finished the year and Josh was coming back. But I've always loved the competition part of things. Everything I do, I like to finish it."
Steffy was named the starter in a meeting with Franklin and the other quarterbacks. He had fared well according to the statistics posted daily in the locker room. "It has completion percentage, attempts, plays of 16 yards and more, interceptions, touchdowns. It has everything," Steffy said.
Maryland's quarterbacks have distinct personalities. Coaches said at the beginning of preseason workouts that Turner needs to prepare better, Steffy is a perfectionist who needs to relax, and Portis needs to gain a better grasp of plays and details.
"Jordan wants to do so well and is probably more detailed and probably prepares better than the rest of the guys," Franklin said on Terrapins Rising, the reality show created by the athletic department that chronicled spring practices. "But he's so hard on himself and wants to be perfect all the time that he tightens up."
Franklin said this week that he has faith in Steffy and hopes and believes the quarterback will be successful early.
"At any position, success breeds success," Franklin said. "This isn't a situation where you're running the triple option and the quarterback has to be not only your game-management guy but your guy that's going to go out and make plays. What we need is a guy that's going to manage the team and put his teammates in a position to be successful and make the plays that are there."
Steffy said his Maryland experience - which extends back to playing six games as a freshman reserve in 2004 - has calmed him.
"As the years go on, you don't worry about it as much. I see [freshman running back] Davin Meggett, and he's all worked up. As more time goes on, you start to relax and see the big picture," Steffy said.
For Steffy, the big picture includes founding and developing a center in his Pennsylvania hometown where needy youths can get help with their homework or find emotional support.
A few nights ago, he said, the team listened to a talk by Lonise Bias, a motivational speaker. She suffered through the cocaine-induced death of her son, Len, the Maryland basketball All-American, in 1986. Another son, Jay, was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1990.
"She talked about continually fighting and pushing on and getting the most out of yourself," Steffy said. "Everyone here is very passionate about football, but at the same time it's important to sort of see that there are other things that are important. That helps me relax."
Tomorrow in The Baltimore Sun:
QB controversies abound in ACC.
terps at a glance
COACH: Ralph Friedgen (eighth season, 56-31)
CONFERENCE: Atlantic Coast
LAST SEASON: 6-7, 3-3
RADIO: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM
TV: Season opener on ESPNU
STADIUM: Byrd (51,500)
TICKETS: 1-800-IM-A-TERP or www.umterps.com
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Danny Oquendo, WR Isaiah Williams, C Edwin Williams, LT Scott Burley, LG Jaimie Thomas, DT Jeremy Navarre, LB Dave Philistin, CB Kevin Barnes
TOP NEWCOMERS: S Kenny Tate, RB Davin Meggett, WR Torrey Smith (redshirt freshman)
STRENGTHS: The linebackers are as deep as ever. The offensive line's multiple injuries last season have evolved into a plus, as an already experienced group expanded its ranks by necessity. The Terps have plenty of speed and some serious return threats on kickoffs and punts.
WEAKNESSES: Maryland must replace running backs Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball with largely inexperienced players. The defensive line is thinner because of the foot injury suffered by Travis Ivey, and there's only one returning starter in the secondary (Kevin Barnes).
KEY GAME: After Clemson, Maryland plays Oct. 4 at rival Virginia, which beat the Terps, 18-17, last season. Also, the September games are important, even the nonconference ones, for the team to establish confidence and an identity.
Season opener: Saturday, 3:45 p.m.,
Where: Byrd Stadium
Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM
* A concussion is an abrupt change in one's mental status triggered by a shock to the head.
* Symptoms include loss of consciousness (even momentarily) or drowsiness, vacant stare, abnormal vision, severe headache, confusion, numbness, seizure, vomiting, stiff neck or fever.
* There are three types of concussions: Grade 1 (no loss of consciousness, brief confusion); Grade 2 (no loss of consciousness, confusion with amnesia for up to 15 minutes); and Grade 3 (any loss of consciousness).
Source: American Academy
who's out, who's in
OUT: Ralph Friedgen is still coach, but he's out as offensive coordinator by his own design.
IN: New coordinator James Franklin's offense is expected to use more three-step drops, crossing patterns and throws to the tight end.
OUT: Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore, who left Maryland as No. 4 and No. 14, respectively, on the school's career rushing list.
IN: Speedy Da'Rel Scott and freshman Davin Meggett have impressed coaches. Morgan Green seemed ready in the spring but has been injured lately.
OUT: Kenny Tate as a wide receiver.
IN: Tate as a safety. The freshman is listed second on the depth chart.
OUT: Chris Turner as the starting quarterback.
IN: Jordan Steffy opens as the starter, just as he did last season before suffering a concussion in the fifth game.
OUT: Dan Gronkowski as a bulky, blocking tight end.
IN: Gronkowski as a slimmed-down pass catcher who can also block.