When Jonathan Claiborne decided four years ago to try out for the Maryland footbal team his father coaches, his mother looked at her 152-pound son and said, "Go to some other school."
But Johnthan, who did not have a football scholarship when he enrolled at Maryland, can be as headstrong as the Claiborne who coaches. He overcame his size, lack of speed and the doubts of his mother and some teammates to earn a scholarship and become a starting safety.
"We both were concerned," said Faye Claiborne. "I said to Jerry, 'There could be such problems.' He said 'I know.'"
"It's worked out because they're both very strong people. And they love each other very much."
Surprisingly, the whole process has developed with only a few rough spots. There was the time, Faye recalled, "when Jonathan first started playing, Jerry asked him. 'How do the boys really feel about so-and-so?', about some subject that wasn't all that important. Jonathan said, you'll have to ask them,' and Jerry immediately apologized.
"Jonathan as much as said, 'I'm a player and what I hear doesn't get repeated.' They both got their points over. No big confrontation."
Breaking the coach's strict rules (nightly curfew, no female visitors) has not been a problem with the ynger Claiborne although he dislikes the restrictions as much as anyone. His good friend and teammate, Chip Garber, said, "Jonathan keeps his nose clean. He's got to, because he's got that added pressure. Imagine being called up to the coach's office to explain why you missed curfew, and seeing your father sitting there."
Perhaps the the most difficult ordeal has taken place in the last two weeks when, for the first time in his two years as a starter, Jonathan made on-field errors that resulted in two long touchdown passes in games the Terps ended up losing.
"The last two weeks have been hard on me," Jonathan said. "I'm sure it must be tough on him (his father) to not only have his safety blow the coverage, but also have his son blow the coverage. But just as I have to accept it, he has to accept it."
His father admitted, "That could be one of the bad things about playing for your father. I know he was really hurt."
Jonathan added, "It's tough. I try not to make mistakes, plus maybe there is a little special incentive for me to win for my father. I don't dwell on it, but it's in the back of my mind."
Faye has noticed this and concludes "I think he thinks he puts his father on the spot."
Against West Virginia Claiborne missed an assignment, playing too shallow, and left a receiver open for a 54-yard touchdown pass that allowed the Mountaineers to lead, 21-0.
On Saturday at Penn State, Claiborne let flanker Jimmy Cefalo get a half-step in front of him, and Cefalo burst away for a 58-yard score that broke a 3-3 tie and propelled the Nittany Lions to an eventual 27-9 victory.
On the play at Penn State. Claiborne dove for Cefalo at the 15-yard line and sustained a hamstring injury that is expected to keep him out of Saturday's game at North Carolina State.
Faye said that after the West Virginia loss she was concerned about Jonathan, who had tears in his eyes when he took the blame for the loss.
"I asked Jerry what he said to him, and he said, 'Well, I hugged him around the nect.' I asked, 'What about the other boys,' and he said, 'I hugged them, too.'"
It was coincidental that Jonathan ever came to Maryland. He played high school ball, excelling more as a receiver than a safety, at three different high schools as the family moved where the coach's career took them. Jonathan received inquiries from a few colleges that would mispell his few colleges that would misspell his "I was no superstar," he noted.
Certain his football days were behind him, he planned to go to the University of Colorado to join his older brother. But his brother foiled that plan by going abroad. So Jonathan decided to attend Maryland for a year then transfer upon his brother's return to Colorado.
After he enrolled at Maryland, Jonathan found, as most athletes do, that he missed football.
"That summer I decided I'd try out," said Jonathan. "I just happened to be at Maryland."
Garber, also a "walk-on" that year, recalls seeing Jonathan for the first time. "I looked at him," said Garber, "and said, "how can this litle guy play?'"
Jonathan answered that question with three interceptions in his first two freshman games. "They had to play me," he said. "I was the only safety."
He was red-shirted the following year and stayed with football (still not on a scholarship) because of the friendships he developed with his redshirt class. The group included Larry Dick, Chuck White, Jim Hagan, Garber and others who developed an unusual closeness that still exists.
"I would have preferred not to have gone out for the team my father was coaching. Being the coach's son is just one more thing to worry about."
With some added weight and speed, Jonathan was awarded a scholarship the spring after his redshirt year. Any suspicions that he would be pampered were dispelled when Jonathan didn't make the travel squad for several games.
The school and coach were just proud of Jonathan's straight-A grades last year, prompting him to say.
"You think I had written the Encyclopedia Brittanica." Garber said the only time Jonathan has ever been openly praised by the coach was when he got the straight As.
"Jonathan has been in a tough situation," said Garber, "but in all my years here I have never seen the coach play favorites with anybody."
The coach's penchant for fairness held firm, even in matters concerning his son, which probably is the most important reason the arrangement has worked.
"The only thing I've really gotten from him and my mother is basically learning right from wrong, to work for and stand by what you think is right," said Jonathan. "They have been strict, and I don't resent that. In high school, I usually had to be home before the girl did.
"I'm the first one to say I don't agree with everything that's done or said around here. I probably get ticked off as much as anybody."
Faye confirms that Jonathan freely disagrees with his father, who she says is more emotional, serious and straight-rather than her son. Or for that matter anyone else she knows.
"Jonathan doesn't agree with everything we tell him. We're as square as square can be," said Faye. "He disagrees with the hours Jerry sets for the team. No kid's going to agree with that."
One thing they do agree on is that the last four years have been a special experience.
"I think this has made us closer," said Jonathan. "I've seen how much his work means to him. He used to leave in the morning and come back at night. I had no insight into what he did. I had a chance to be a part of my dad's work, and it's given me a better insight into the man generally.
"I have more respect for his job."
And the coach has respect for his son.
"I've been very proud of everything he's done, even before he came to Maryland," said Jerry Claiborne. "I think I've learned more about him. He's accomplished more as an athlete than I thought he was capable of. I think my father would be proud of him. I don't have to be his coach to do that."
The younger Claiborne might have changed the situation only slightly.
"Maybe if I could have done the same thing and not had my father as a coach, it would have been better," said Jonathan, wondering aloud more than stating a fact. "If I could have come in and had the same success, it might have been nice to be John Doe and play for coach Claiborne."