- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2000

Maryland tailback LaMont Jordan is getting used to being labeled a "freak." The term is not generally considered a compliment. But in Jordan's case, it clearly is a form of praise.
Jordan has emerged as one of college football's best players without devoting countless hours to offseason practice the past two years because of academic constraints. This startling development is enough to make coaches from coast to coast gnash their teeth and rend their garments.
"He is a freak of nature," said Terps running backs coach Mike Locksley of Maryland's best Heisman Trophy candidate in nearly two decades. "No matter how long the layoff or how much practice he missed, somehow he is always in shape. He's a guy that can go away from lifting weights and come back stronger."
Jordan is a consensus preseason all-American after rushing for a school-record 1,632 yards last season, including a Herculean 306 yards in the season finale against Virginia. The senior is the nation's leading active rusher with 3,227 career yards. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound power back with explosive speed is on everyone's top 10 list for the Heisman.
All this from a guy who admits he has not worked especially hard at practice and conditioning. Although his lack of perseverance and extended absences would dull most players' skills, it doesn't seem to have affected this natural force. In all, Jordan missed 27 consecutive practices before his recent return.
"If I took some time off or didn't work out, I think I would stink," said Terps standout linebacker Aaron Thompson, a close friend of Jordan's "But he has the talent where he can just pick up and go. His endurance has to be built up, but otherwise he can just pick up and go with the best of them. If he adds a work ethic, there is no telling what he can do."
Jordan provided a taste of that against Virginia when he rampaged for 306 yards on 37 carries. It capped an amazing second half of the season for the Suitland (Md.) High School graduate. He led the nation in rushing over the last six games, averaging 183.5 yards.
The tailback has breakaway speed, although he feels he has never fully shown it because of poor offseason conditioning. Jordan has the moves to make defenders miss and the size to barrel over those in his way.
"LaMont is easily one of the top two or three backs, if not the best back in the country," said Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden, who is not expected to start Jordan in the season opener against Temple on Sept. 9 because of the time missed. "He has it all."
But although Jordan has missed practices and offseason workouts, he feels he has one ingredient that separates him from others.
"If you don't match your heart to your natural ability, you are really not going to do well," said Jordan, whose 16 touchdowns last season were a Maryland single-season record. "The whole not lifting weights deal although I know it would make me better, I don't let it stop me because I put the most important thing into it and that's my heart."
Jordan did some strength work but was forced to spend most of his time battling with his grades to ensure he could play at all.
Jordan gained a new appreciation for football after he "almost had the opportunity taken away" because of his classroom difficulties. But when he finally returned, it was as if he had not missed a beat with teammates who had been doing rigorous workouts for months to prepare for camp.
"I don't understand my body," said Jordan, the Prince George's County, Md., 100-yard dash champion in high school. "I just know that for some reason the Lord has given me this athletic gift. To be able to sit out a whole summer after sitting out a whole spring and still be on the same level with people that have worked out all summer. That's just a gift."
It's a present that has given him the means to be one of the nation's top players. The school's sports information office is hard at work hyping him for the Heisman. And he appears to be Maryland's best candidate since Boomer Esiason finished 10th in the 1983 balloting.
Jordan passed on jumping to the NFL because he felt he wasn't ready mentally or physically, even though he could have been drafted in the first round and landed a million-dollar deal. Instead, he took out an insurance policy in case of an injury and returned for his senior season.
Jordan is now drawing comparisons to other great backs like Barry Sanders and Herschel Walker, who also were not known for their work ethic in college. With a season similar to last year's, Jordan will become the ACC's all-time leading rusher and could break into the NCAA's top-10 ground-gaining list.
Terps quarterback coach Mike Gundy, who played in the same backfield with Thurman Thomas and Sanders in the late 1980s at Oklahoma State and sees similarities in Jordan.
"LaMont proved in the last half of the season that he can be a dominant back like those guys," Gundy said. "Those are two Hall of Famers there, so I am a little bit careful about putting a guy in that category. But the tools are there. When the ball was in their hands in college, people couldn't tackle them. And that's what LaMont did the last six games."
Jordan, a communications major, spent the summer doing an internship with sports radio station WTEM-AM, where he worked closely with former Washington Redskin Rick "Doc" Walker. It was from Walker that he first heard the "freak" analogy.
"The first time I heard him say I was a freak, I busted out laughing," Jordan said. "I have been blessed with speed and size and moves. That's just something as a kid I developed growing up playing in the neighborhood [Forestville]. You always wanted to have speed to outrun the older kids. Everybody wants to shake people and make moves. I have always been able to do that."
Jordan has set his goals on gaining 250 all-purpose yards and scoring at least one touchdown a game this season while leading the Terps to their first bowl game since 1990. And folks around College Park are wondering how productive he can be if he fully gets into game shape.
"I really do believe that 300-yard effort versus Virginia isn't close to what he can do at the top level," said Locksley, who credits Jordan's mental toughness for his ability to thrive in adverse conditions. "I don't think I have ever really seen LaMont Jordan at the top of his game."
For Maryland's opponents, that's a scary thought.

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