- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

Matt Kalapinski is an NFL prospect although he gets lost in his own backfield. The Maryland fullback is an All-ACC candidate, and one national publication calls him the third-best fullback in college football.

But only college football junkies know much about the senior. If he is recognized at all, it's as the other guy in the backfield with superstar tailback LaMont Jordan.

"Matt is pretty much an escort service for LaMont," said Terps running backs coach Mike Locksley, of the 6-foot-1, 233-pounder. "He's knocking down linebackers, flattening safeties. All those yards LaMont got last year, he probably wouldn't have got close to without Matt out front."

There are many questions surrounding the Terps' offense going into the season. How effective will a revamped line be after losing two starters and its tight end to graduation? Can it help produce a respectable passing attack that will force defenses to play the run honestly? And the most pressing question is whether Jordan will be academically eligible and starts off on a tear similar to the one he was on at the close of last season.

Jordan, who would come into the season as nation's leading active rusher, is awaiting his summer school grades to see if he will be eligible. The prospective Heisman Trophy candidate said this week he has the "utmost confidence" he will be cleared to play. A decision could come as early as today.

One of the answers Maryland does know is who will be pounding a path ahead of its featured runner. Kalapinski is a bruising blocker with enough speed to get ahead and make the key block to set up a big gain. Jordan gained a school-record 1,632 yards rushing last season with his breakaway speed, his strength to break tackles and his natural instincts. But many of his highlight reel runs were triggered by a blue-collar block from Kalapinski.

"A lot of my yards come from Kaly just blowing people up," said Jordan, a consensus preseason All-American selection. "I'm lost without Kaly out there. I don't think he gets enough credit."

This wasn't the way Kalapinski envisioned his college career. The criminal justice major was a legend in the small town of Marshfield, Mass., near Boston. He scored 27 touchdowns as senior tailback at Marshfield High School, where he doubled as a linebacker.

Despite his success, he was hardly noticed by Division I programs. Kalapinski said Syracuse and Boston College called but showed only moderate interest, probably because he was just over 200 pounds and didn't have exceptional speed. Maryland began recruiting him late after Ron Vanderlinden became coach. Kalapinski immediately jumped at the only scholarship he was offered by a D-I school.

"Everybody back home has always expected me to go to the NFL," said Kalapinski, whom the Sporting News ranks the third-best college fullback.

When Kalapinski arrived in College Park, the Terps weren't sure where to play him. They considered putting him at linebacker before settling on fullback. However, things did not begin well on the practice field.

"You would look at him as if he was uncoachable," said Locksley, who considers Kalapinski, not Jordan, the Terps' offensive catalyst. "There would be times, after he made a mistake, he would be talking to himself and cussing at himself, out of control almost. As he got older and I got a little wiser, I learned he is going to get himself straight."

Kalapinski started four games as a freshman, when he was paired with Jordan. The two running mates make an odd couple in the backfield with the super-serious Kalapinski and Jordan, who acknowledges a tendency to slack off in practice.

"They are night and day," said Locksley, who began at Maryland the year the two arrived. "Matt is more a lead-by-example guy. But I tell you what they have been together and in tune for three years now. Matt is a throwback player with his toughness and work ethic."

And although Kalapinski would have like to have been the flashy runner getting national attention, he enjoys his role as the "escort service." The fullback hopes to smooth the road toward the Terps' first bowl in a decade.

Kalapinski rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns last season, and doesn't figure to carry the ball much more if Jordan returns.

"I'm just an unsung hero who just goes out there and gets the job done," said Kalapinski. "Since we have LaMont, I am not going to have much of a chance to run the ball. I just make the most of it."

Note Reserve offensive lineman James Evans sprained his left ankle during practice and departed on crutches.

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