Dave Stinebaugh tattooed robot parts onto his right shoulder, because at this moment he might be more machine than man. The senior tight end has undergone three surgeries during his college career. Doctors have reattached ligaments and inserted screws. He missed seven games in 2010 and all of 2011. Entering Saturday afternoon, he still had never scored a touchdown.
So of course it happened in this manner: Stinebaugh tumbling backwards before the goal post, the football wobbling in midair. Quarterback C.J. Brown’s bullet pass zipped straight into the waving right arm of a West Virginia defender, with Stinebaugh waiting on the other side. He jumped and then landed, dropping to the ground to buy more time, with the ball still in the air. Stinebaugh’s catch helped avoid a red-zone disaster and gave Maryland its first points of an eventual 37-0 blowout.
“Nothing ever seems to be easy with the kind of career I’ve had.,” he said later. “It gets tipped, wide open, I have to come back to the ball. Slow motion, like, ‘Oh man, what’s going on?’”
Forgive Stinebaugh if he asked himself that very question over the years. He injured his medial collateral ligament and shoulder three seasons ago, when many of his current teammates were still in high school. Then he missed 2011 recovering from shoulder surgery, and spent a healthy 2012 season playing on special teams behind Matt Furstenburg, Davonte Campbell and Ryan Schlothauer, all seniors.
Their graduations – Furstenburg plays for the Ravens practice squad, and Campbell was waived by the Atlanta Falcons during training camp – left Stinebaugh as the lone experienced tight end, though his experience was limited to four receptions for 42 tackles three years ago.
But Stinebaugh has become an indispensable asset on Maryland’s offense. He’s equally capable blocking in the diamond formation as streaking across the middle and finding seams for first downs. Through four games, he has caught seven passes for 79 yards.
“He’s getting better,” Coach Randy Edsall said earlier last week. “The more reps he’s gotten, the better he’s gotten. I think we’ll continue to see that. He’s got really good hands in terms of pass-catching. He’s always going to be a factor in the passing game. How many times the ball gets to him will be predicated upon what the defenses are doing. From the first week to the third week, he made improvement in the blocking.”
And, of course, his first career touchdown.
“I was excited for him,” Brown said. “That was his first touchdown. I tried to put it up high, but that backer shot up there, he made a good play on the ball. Landed right in Stine’s hands. It felt good. I’m excited for him. He was like, ‘Seriously? You had to make it that tough?’ We’ll laugh about it later.”