He did it, only because his coach asked him to.
"Jerry didn't want to be in the senior play," said Faye Claiborne, former high school sweetheart and present wife of Maryland's head football coach.
"Jerry," said Faye," was a typical jock, and he felt it was beneath his dignity to be in a play; you know, bad for the image. But his coach told him he ought to broaden his horizons."
What he added to his horizons was a talkative girl who teased him about not knowing his lines.
"He missed school one day and stayed home to learn them," said Faye. "He came back and knew them perfectly."
In the tiny rural town of Hopkinsville, Ky., the two had always known each other but the friendship never became romantic until the school play paired them.
"We were a couple in the play," said Faye. "And we had to sort of embrace. If he would have had to kiss me, I think he would have gotten out of the play."
More than 30 years have passed since the closing of that dramatic production, but Jerry Claiborne, in many ways, still is the same character.
The young perfectionist who was ashamed into staying home and learning his lines perfectly now is a 50-year-old man who arrives at work when it is still dark outside. Claiborne, fired from Virginia Tech and accused by a friend of "not working hard enough at recruiting," has raised a football empire at fifth-ranked, undefeated Maryland on a foundation of detailed time schedules and hard work.
The typical high school jock has become what is tediously described as "a man's man," said, given more specifically, "a coach's coach." When not attending to football, family or church, Claiborne is playing handball with Maryland's physical education teachers, or playing tennis with his daughter. He is in excellent shape.
The youngster reluctant to kiss the girl of his affections now describes himself as "a man of the 10 Commandments," a clean-living, non-drinker who worries about the changing morality of America's youth, about "the certain commandments that youngsters seem to be routinely ignoring."
The dutiful player who did what his coach asked, now expects the same from his players, and he asks a great deal.
Maryland football players are in some way tied to the program every day from August two-a-day practices to the last game of the season. There is nightly curfew and a ban on liquor, drugs and females in rooms.
The rules serve partly to keep the players academically eligible and in good physical condition, but Claiborne also does not hide the fact that he seeks to influence their personal lives.
"I give them discipline, because they need it," said Claiborne, "and sometimes, this is the only place they get it."
Faye remembers Claiborne, the high school boy, as being "a little cocky; but he put up an awful big front.
"He was not as popular as his other brother George. Jerry was intense, even then. He always has been. He was not as easy going, not as easy to get along with, as George was."
Like so many overshadowed little brothers, Claiborne nurtured a competitive fire he probably never even thought about. Years later, his brother got out of high school and college coaching and wrote Claiborne a warm note, saying, "I'm not as competitive as you."
When Hopkinsville High made its senior class predictions, Jerry Claiborne's fate was listed as coaching.
"He wanted to be a coach, even as a little boy. We all knew it," said Faye. "At that time, being a coach was really the only way to make a living in athletics. Nobody talked about being in the pros back then."
Even if they were, Claiborne probably would not have fooled himself into the great money chase. In high school, and later at Kentucky, Claiborne succeeded at a variety of positions by depending more on guts and labor than on talent and size.
Today, that is CLaiborne's kind of player.
"Do you know the player he always talks about to me?" said Faye. (Center) Mike Simon. Mike Simon is one of his favorites, because he plays hut and he never complains and nobody notices him. That's the kind of person he reacts to.
"He loves to help the kind of guy who honestly doesn't have enough to eat. He'll spend all day with him. It's the ones who have talent and don't use it that make him angry."
Faye said Claiborne also is angered "by hypocrites, by writers who take his words out of context, and he gets awful mad when boys miss their assignments."
To many observers, Claiborne seems a colorless, humorless man who does not relate well to people with beliefs that don't match his. He is often perceived as distant, cold and condescending.
"Our children always laugh at that concept the newspapers have of him," said Faye. "One of our daughter's friends was teasing her about his Coca Cola commercials, because he has to talk so fast and he sounds funny. So he went up to them in our home one night and started into his routine, 'Hello-I'm-Jerry-Claiborne-would-you-like-a-Coca-Cola. . .'
"When the children were small, we didn't believe in being buddies. It was not, 'I'm your buddy.' It was, 'I'm your father.' We're disciplinarians, and we're as square as square can be. We don't believe in sex before marriage, or in many of the things young people feel forced to do because of peer pressure.
"The world is changing, and much of it, we don't like. But our children and our players would come to Jerry with these problems. Jerry is a person who cries easily, who would call or write to anyone who had something bad happen to them."
Maryland quarterback Tim O'Hare has said that he probably would not go to Claiborne with a personal problem but added that "the players here who complained about him and his rules that most are the ones who write back and thank him, and ask him how the team is."
The answer to that is, the team, and the coach, are the same as ever.