Jack Zane, the University of Maryland's sports information director, was in a playful mood the day the Terrapins opened summer practice. As a photographer ran around taking pictures of Mike Tice, Lloyd Burruss and George Scott, Zane sidled up to him and asked:
"How would you like to take a picture of the only four-time Atlantic Coast Conference hurdles champion in a football uniform?"
"Skeets is here?" the photographer said, surprised because he had thought world-record holder Renaldo Nehemiah was preparing for the World Cup track competition.
"Nope," said Zane, "but Greg Robertson's right over there. And he's the one who's won it the last four years."
For Greg (Fly) Robertson the story was not unusual. For the past two years, even though he is one of the top hurdlers in the world, he has taken a back seat to the remarkable Nehemiah, his teammate and close friend.
Now Fly Robertson is again taking a back seat, trying to make it on a veteran Maryland football team after not having played the game for five years.
When Maryland opens its season Saturday against Villanova at Byrd Stadium, Robertson probably will be a backup at split end and as a return man on the punt and kickoff teams. However, he is expected to see spot action at all three positions.
"Its been one big learning process right from the beginning," Robertson admitted, the words shooting from his mouth in quick staccato tones. "But I don't mind being just one of the guys. Attention has never been a big thing to me. I just want to feel like I can contribute."
Whether Robertson can contribute is yet to be seen. He is a fifth-year senior at College Park this fall and, since he used up his track eligibility last spring, he decided to give football a whirl this fall. As a wide receiver he is still learning to read defenses. As a punt returner, he broke a 73-yarder a week ago in a scrimmage.
"He's got a fantastic attitude," said Morgan Hout, the coach of receivers, "and he's really worked hard at learning the game over again. But in a lot of ways he's like a freshman. He's got to learn to read the different defenses and he's got to learn which routes to run and when. But he's definitely making progress."
Robertson exudes self-confidence, largely because he has never known real failure as an athlete. At LaSalle High School in South Bend, Ind., he was all-state on both offense and defense in football, and an outstanding basketball player. He was good enough as a football player to be offered a scholarship by Louisiana State.
But those were his secondary sports.
"I always loved track the best," he said. "Maybe it's because that was what I was best at. But I've always liked the individual man-to-man challenge of it. Either you do or you don't. No one else can help you."
Robertson started running hurdles seriously at age 13 when a high school coach, after watching him high jump, told him that he could write his ticket to college, if he worked at the hurdles. "He said I had the speed and the jumping ability and that's what it took," Robertson said.
When it came time to choose a college, Robertson never considered the football offers. Maryland offered a track scholarship and he jumped at it.
Many thought that Nehemiah's arrival on campus in Robertson's junior year would upset him. "No way," Robertson said laughing. "Skeets and I are very close. We love to really beat on each other in practice. He helps me a lot with my technique and I try to help him, too.
"When he broke the world record I felt like I had part of the record because we worked so hard with one another. I never minded the publicity he got. He deserved it."
Robertson's best chance to contribute on the football field appears to be on punt returns. With Burruss out with a broken leg, the Terps have no experienced punt returners. Robertson has the one skill that cannot be taught; pure speed.
"He's got the talent," Hout said. "The speed is there. The one he broke in the scrimmage was just a great run. Whether he can help us as a receiver I don't know yet, but he could in certain spots. He still has a lot to learn, though."
"Right now I'm eating and sleeping football and academics," he said. "That's it. I want to get my degree this spring and I want to prove myself as a football player. Those are the two things I'm working at hardest."
And when football season is over, the slightly built 23-year-old will return to the hurdles for a shot at the Moscow Olympics.
"I think football can help me as a hurdler because I'll get used to running with equipment and running without it will feel light," he said. "I know if I can put together one big race, I can make the Olympic team. I've beaten everyone else who has a chance. It will be tough, but I could do it."
Of football, Robertson said, "You got to love it to be out there.
"There are some things you can picture in your mind. And in my mind I can see a punt coming down and I can see the wall forming and I can see myself breaking one all the way. Just like in the scrimmage."