Many times during his first two years at Maryland, LaMont Jordan sat in the office of running backs coach Mike Locksley and stared blankly as Locksley chastised him for his lack of effort in practice and the classroom. Never mind that LaMont was the Terps' top rusher, with 689 yards as a freshman and 906 as a sophomore. "I kept asking if he realized what was in front of him," says Locksley. "Everything he was doing was based on natural ability, and he thought that was good enough. He just didn't get it."
Last summer, while volunteering as an assistant coach for a track club near his home in Forestville, Md., Jordan finally understood. He was scolding a runner for not working hard enough in practice when the boy shrugged his shoulders and questioned the merits of practicing. Jordan suddenly felt as if he were looking in a mirror. "That really opened my eyes," he says. "I saw some kids who had so much talent and potential, but I knew they weren't going to get better if they didn't work at it. I told them they had a lifetime ahead of them and not to waste their ability. That's when I realized that I had time to change."
Jordan, a 5'11", 220-pound junior, worked diligently in the classroom last summer to pass classes he needed to maintain his eligibility, and his practice habits have improved dramatically this fall. The results have been eyecatching: In eight games Jordan, who ran for 227 yards in last Saturday's 25-22 loss to Duke, has rambled for 1,082 yards. He ranks seventh nationally in rushing (135 yards per game) and eighth in scoring (10.5 points per game). He has also gone 156 touches without a fumble. Meanwhile the Terrapins (5-3) have won as many games this season as they did in the previous two.
"When we recruited him, I told LaMont we were going to build the program around him," says Terps coach Ron Vanderlinden. "I saw right away that he could be a difference maker, but the last two years LaMont wasn't the leader we hoped he'd be. He's been a different person this year."
Jordan, who excelled at football, baseball and track in high school, grew up wanting to play at North Carolina. He was scheduled to make a recruiting visit there in the winter of his senior year but didn't go after a Tar Heels' coach told him that the school wasn't going to hold a scholarship for him because he hadn't yet earned the SAT score needed to be eligible as a freshman. That February, with his qualifying score in hand, Jordan signed a letter of intent with Maryland; the school's College Park campus is just 15 minutes from his home.
Although he thought often about being a Tar Heel while the Terapins were struggling during his freshman and sophomore seasons, his outlook has changed. "I don't look at things in such a negative way anymore," says Jordan, who needs 641 yards to pass Charlie Wysocki and become Maryland's alltime leading rusher. "What I've gone through has opened my eyes. I want to get my degree [he's majoring in communications], play in the NFL and be a role model. I've made a lot of mistakes, but I now know what's at stake, and I'm not going to blow it."