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Jones is the man

October 06, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Randall Jones has been labeled "the future of the University of Maryland football program."

Slowly but surely, the Thomas Johnson graduate has been groomed to be the Terrapins' next quarterback.

Now, the future is now.

Coach Ron Vanderlinden announced Jones would make his first start behind center on Saturday when the Terps travel to Clemson in what has become a key Atlantic Coast Conference matchup for Maryland. Jones will replace Ken Mastrole to become the first-ever true freshman to start as Maryland's quarterback.

"Randall gives us the best opportunity to move the ball on offense, so he will start this week," Vanderlinden said during his weekly media luncheon. "I think the timing is right for Randall to take the reins. He is ready; the team is ready."

It ended what has been a much anticipated and meteoric rise of Jones into control of Maryland's offense.

Jones was recruited last year as a safety after playing a season of quarterback at Naval Academy Prep. He went from safety, to quarterback of the freshman team to the Terps' second-string quarterback before Maryland's Sept. 5 opener with James Madison.

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Three weeks ago, Jones saw his first extended action in a mop-up role during the 42-20 blowout by West Virginia. In the last two weeks, the freshman's playing time was expanded in games with Temple and Florida State. Jones came on after Mastrole played the first two series of each game. Jones ran 31 plays to Mastrole's 42 against Temple, but was on the field for 47 of 61 plays in Saturday's 24-10 loss to No. 9-ranked Florida State.

''We've allowed both guys to lead the team," Vanderlinden said. "I feel good that this was won on the field. It's obvious to me and the offensive coaches that Randall gives us the best opportunity to move the football. Hopefully, this will allow us to develop more offensive continuity.''

The use of the two quarterbacks started talk of a quarterback controversy, pitting Mastrole and Jones against each other for the starting job. Both have bowed to Vanderlinden's authority during interviews, vowing to do whatever was best for the Terps to win.

''This is tough for Kenny. I feel a tremendous amount of loyalty and affection for Kenny and what he's done for this football team,'' Vanderlinden said. ''But if you take out the emotional part of it, this wasn't a difficult decision. We had been starting Kenny because he gave us the best chance to be in the right play in the beginning of the game and then we would bring in Randall off the bench because it would give the team a lift.

"We've watch this situation systematically unfold. They have been in a delicate situation. Although we are doing all we can to win games right now, we are still looking at this team in the long term.''

The long term means it is becoming increasingly important for the Terps to do more than just challenge Florida State in games. For that to happen, Vanderlinden has been looking for players with the magical ability to make plays.

Jones fit the bill.

Lack of mobility has been the downfall of Mastrole, who has completed 38 of 77 passes (.494 percentage) for 474 yards and a touchdown. He has struggled directing Maryland's option attack and taken 12 sacks for 158 yards. Jones has repeatedly shown ability to make defensive linemen miss in the backfield, either turning a potential loss into a gain or buying time to get off a pass. He has rushed for 83 yards and thrown for 132 with one touchdown and no interceptions in his limited action.

''Randall has allowed us to eliminate the negative plays. He's very elusive,'' Vanderlinden said.

The objective is to lead Maryland successfully through the final six games in the suddenly competitive ACC, starting with struggling Clemson (1-4, 0-3). There is a growing sentiment among the Terps that a bowl bid is still possible.

"(Jones is) the future right now," Vanderlinden said.

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