The fate of the 1998 Patuxent junior varsity football team should have been the first sign. With freshman running back Terry Caulley on the roster, the Panthers sailed to a 7-0 start. Without Caulley for the final three games of the year--he had been promoted to varsity--the junior varsity team finished 0-3.

The second sign that Caulley was ready to run with the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference's best came on opening night of the 1999 season. That night, the sophomore tore through McDonough for 270 yards and two touchdowns.

"I thought he had potential on [junior varsity] last year, he was the best back I had seen, but of course we didn't play in the SMAC last year," Patuxent coach Jim Esposito said. "Still, whoever he played against, he dominated."

Caulley's results are dominating, but his running style isn't. He's 5 feet 7 inches tall and 160 pounds (at most), and he's much more elusive than punishing. Caulley doesn't run over people, he runs around them. He has become even more elusive this season, in part because of the stutter-step that Patuxent assistant coach Ed Horsmon has helped him to perfect.

Once around a defender, Caulley gets away--quickly. Six weeks into the 1999 season, he is the Washington area's leading rusher and top scorer, with 1,255 yards and 17 touchdowns on 126 carries.

Since Patuxent visits Thomas Stone on Friday, it's impossible not to compare Caulley's numbers to those of Cougars All-Met running back Marcus Whalen, last year's top SMAC runner who is second this year in rushing yardage. Whalen, who stands 6 feet tall and 205 pounds, trails Caulley by 110 yards and six rushing touchdowns--although Caulley has 27 more attempts.

"You can't really compare the two," said Chopticon Coach Andy Palko, whose team has already faced both players this season. "What I like about Caulley is that you don't get a clean shot on him. He makes great cuts, so you never hit him straight up, shoulder to shoulder. You get that shot on Whalen, but then you wish you hadn't."

Friday, they will go head to head, sometimes literally. The opportunities will come when Patuxent has the ball, since Whalen is also one of the league's top linebackers.

"Numbers-wise, as far as yardage goes, I've been compared to Marcus for a long time," said Caulley, who moved to Maryland from Hawaii--where only flag football was available for younger children--four years ago. "I was behind him, so people said I couldn't hang with him. Most people doubted me. They said I can't match Marcus. Now that I'm beating him in [rushing yards], they still say that. I guess Friday night will be the time to decide that."

Caulley credits his offensive line--which averages 6 feet, 235 pounds per player--and fullback Anthony Baldwin with doing 90 to 95 percent of the work for him. They create the holes, he follows--and in doing so, has gained no fewer than 125 yards in each game this season.

In the first four weeks of the season, Caulley averaged 18 carries per game, but he has become the Panthers' workhorse of late, carrying the ball 31 times for 246 yards against La Plata and 30 times for 258 yards against Northern.

"Coming into this year, to be honest, I didn't think I was going to break any records or lead any" statistical categories, Caulley said. "And, of course, it's great, but I can't let it get to my head. Thomas Stone will be the best team we've faced so far, so that's what I have to focus on now. I really can't wait to play them."

The feeling, of course, is mutual.

"We're ready," Whalen said.

Running It Up

Game-by-game rushing statistics for Patuxent's Terry Caulley and Thomas Stone's Marcus Whalen heading into Friday's showdown.

Caulley

Opponent

Carries

Yards

TDs

vs. McDonough

22

270

2

vs. Leonardtown

12

168

1

vs. Southern

15

126

1

vs. Chopticon

16

187

4

vs. La Plata

31

246

5

vs. Northern

30

258

4

Total

126

1,255

17

Whalen

Opponent

Carries

Yards

TDs

vs. Chopticon

24

310

4

vs. McDonough

19

192

3

vs. Northern

11

78

0

vs. La Plata

26

196

1

vs. Great Mills

11

194

0

vs. Wakefield

8

175

2

Total

99

1,145

10

CAPTION: Patuxent's Terry Caulley, shown being tackled by La Plata's Titus Green, is small but elusive. "You don't get a clean shot on him," one coach said.