Maryland tackle Jared Gaither has been declared academically ineligible for the fall, a team spokesman confirmed yesterday.
It is uncertain whether the 6-foot-9, 350-pound Gaither will return to school and try to become eligible for 2008 or declare for next month"s NFL supplemental draft.
What is more lucid is the Terrapins" offensive line — an already untested unit — will be down three of its primary starters from a year ago, hardly the best recipe for success with a first-year starter at quarterback.
Gaither"s ineligibility was far from a sudden circumstance. Coach Ralph Friedgen excused Gaither from spring practice to concentrate on his academic responsibilities.
The Terps went 9-4 and won the Champs Sports Bowl last year behind an often conservative offense and relatively consistent play from the offensive line. But tackle Stephon Heyer graduated, and guard Donnie Woods opted to give up his final year to pursue a career in the military, leaving the left side of the line open.
His departure leaves junior Dane Randolph, who started four games last year, and senior Scott Burley, who played only in the season opener against William & Mary last year, as the Terps" only tackles with offensive line game experience. Their backups during spring practice were converted defensive lineman Jack Griffin and walk-on Paul Pinegar.
The increasingly thin line could be a concern for the Terps, who must replace two-year starter Sam Hollenbach at quarterback. Junior Jordan Steffy has taken 14 snaps over the last two seasons, and sophomore Josh Portis sat out last year after transferring from Florida. Sophomore Chris Turner has not played in two seasons at Maryland.
If Gaither"s star-crossed career at Maryland is over, it will be remembered for the physical specimen"s unfulfilled promise. He played football only one year at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt and still earned a scholarship offer, but Gaither didn"t immediately qualify and spent 2004 at Hargrave Military Academy.
He took over as Maryland"s starting left tackle less than a month into the 2005 season and didn"t yield a sack the entire year. Gaither was shifted to right tackle when Heyer returned from an ACL tear, but he was suspended the first two weeks of practice for a violation of team rules just before camp commenced last summer.
Gaither sat out the season opener for disciplinary reasons, and the mammoth lineman was hampered by a nerve injury later in the year. He played sparingly in the regular season"s penultimate game at Boston College and took less than half of the snaps at right tackle in the bowl victory. He then considered declaring for the NFL Draft before deciding to remain at Maryland.