- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

As Ryan Steinberg approaches McKeldin Mall for one of his first exams of the semester, it is clear this is no ordinary September day.

Scores of tables are set up along one of the University of Maryland’s most traveled arteries for the First Look Fair. Every student group imaginable is congregated to tout their organization and recruit new members.

They won’t find one in Steinberg, who has no time to devote to another group. His job as the football team’s student manager consumes 60 hours a week — and even more when Maryland plays on the road.

“It’s my favorite time of the year,” Steinberg says with a grin — and with no hint of regret. “It’s when I get to go look at what I haven’t been able to do.”

Steinberg shuffles past the hoopla to his exam, fulfilling the “student” portion of his day well before lunch. His day began three hours earlier, and it won’t end until after dinner. He didn’t join any student groups, but he feels right at home in the busy Gossett Football Team House.

“He’s a very committed guy,” says David Feliciano, Steinberg’s roommate and fellow manager. “He just has the ability to know this is what he wants to do.”

7:45 a.m.: Cram session

Steinberg arrives at the team house around 7:30 in the morning. He has laundry detail — a large task for a program with 120 players — and works on the Terps’ Pro Simulator program. Steinberg even squeezes in schoolwork.

It’s all part of his effort to chase a dream he’s had for nearly two decades.

“I’d ride around with my dad, and I’d read Sporting News and I’d fire off stats at him,” Steinberg recalls. “Since I was 4 years old, I said, ‘I want to work in sports.’”

Steinberg grew up in Rockville and managed the Wootton High Schoolbasketball team as a student. He spent his first college semester at Montgomery College, but he went to College Park for football practice each day.

Steinberg enrolled at Maryland that spring, and he is in line to graduate in May.

On this morning, the groggy senior is using what little down time he has to study for an exam. The juggling act is typical for the caffeine addict who attends class year-round so he can devote enough time to football.

“My vacation was the one week we get off in May. By the third week in September, I’m ready for Sunday. Sunday’s the day where I kind of just crash,” Steinberg says. “But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t like it. Stuff like laundry and all that, that’s extra. People ask ‘Why do you do it?’ I don’t know any different.”

9:10 a.m.: The other world

Steinberg hasn’t seen Feliciano at their apartment in the past two days. He gets four or five hours of rest a night, in line with coach Ralph Friedgen on Maryland’s sleep-deprived list.

On his way to class, Steinberg takes a call about game tickets from his sister, who pesters him about responding to voice messages.

“When do you want me to call you back?” Steinberg asks. “I spend every waking moment in that team house.”

That becomes even more apparent when he peruses the fair after his exam, stopping by the senior class table to collect his “Kiss me, I’m a senior” button, which he affixes to his team-issued backpack.

There are other perks besides the backpack, part of the treat-everyone-the-same mantra Friedgen preaches. Managers register early for classes to avoid practice conflicts, just like players. The program provides full tuition to managers.

“That’s the part we don’t like letting people know, because everybody gets jealous about money,” Steinberg says. “But if they told me tomorrow ‘We can’t pay you’, I’d still show up. I don’t think a lot of people would do that. … They know how to treat people and they keep them around. You feel like you’re part of the team.”

11:45 a.m.: The simulator

Steinberg eats lunch and continues work with the Pro Simulator. It is a $200,000-plus gadget Friedgen purchased to provide mental repetitions to quarterbacks and wide receivers, a computer program at the technological forefront.

The simulator also gives Steinberg a higher profile than previous managers.

Friedgen and the staff set Steinberg up with the simulator in a converted meeting room last winter, and he spent hours plugging plays from Friedgen’s offense into the computer.

“He’s smart enough to realize that someday a lot of people will be doing that and he’ll be on the cutting edge of that,” Friedgen says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the company [hires] him. I sat down with he and the owner of the company and told him what he had to do to make his product better. The owner is calling Ryan all the time.”

Sure enough, Steinberg fields a handful of calls from GridIron Technologies through the day, answering his phone “GridIron at Maryland, this is Ryan.”

The latest hiccup is the absence of a defensive tackle in the opponent’s scheme; the computer doesn’t accept the defensive formation. If there’s a glitch in the program, Steinberg is likely to find it.

“I keep telling people what it is and they called me back the other day and said, ‘You’re too smart for us. We didn’t know that would happen,’” Steinberg says.

Steinberg visits receivers coach Bryan Bossard to show off the latest arrival — a new simulator laptop for the wideouts. Steinberg is involved in many aspects of the football program, a fact he hopes will help him land a job after graduation, perhaps in a team’s operations department.

“I kind of like seeing that I’ve worked so hard and I’m starting to see some reward from it,” Steinberg says. “I think the final reward will be landing that first job somewhere.”

2 p.m.: Practice talk

The equipment room, a jungle of shoes, tools, boxes and helmet parts, is chaotic, a product of the tight space and a frantic pre-practice rush.

Steinberg teams with eight managers to put away uniforms needed for practice. Clothing flies as freely as the ribbing among the managers, and while it is not Cirque du Soleil, the job is done quickly.

The managers then have free time before leaving to set up for practice. Steinberg holds court, teasing his brother Shane — a freshman nicknamed “The Legacy” — for writing a thesaurus-aided paper about Chipotle.

The group eventually migrates to set up the field in their most visible job. Managers do other things, but they play a large role in making practice run smoothly.

“We don’t have that much of an impact during the game, but we have to do our job during the week to make sure everything [goes right],” Steinberg says. “That 60 hours is for nothing if we don’t win on Saturdays.”

6:30 p.m.: Winding down

Steinberg bristles when he thinks about people who slide through school with minimal effort. Just as the masses who walk past the practice field possess a perception of Steinberg’s life, he has ideas about students who coast to a degree.

“I think my grades level out with everything I do here,” Steinberg says. “These kids just don’t do anything. I’m sitting in class with a kid who says ‘Oh, I called in sick to the gym. I got drunk.’ Are you kidding? That just eats at me. Call me mature, call me old, but that part just bothers me.”

Steinberg knows he can aggravate even his fellow managers with his work-heavy approach, but he provides an invaluable service to the football program. Friedgen gushingly calls him “a true Terp,” and even after practice and dinner are finished he works on the simulator some more.

“He’s willing to do whatever it takes,” says Ron Ohringer, Maryland’s head equipment manager. “Everyone asks him to do stuff and he says yes. He gets overextended sometimes because he’s willing to do anything.”

If that means turning out the lights at the team house, so be it.

“I don’t mind working. Working’s fun,” Steinberg says. “People have asked me do you regret doing this and I say, ‘No, I just didn’t live the normal college life.’ I didn’t live on North Campus and hang out with many people. This is what I do.”

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