Mike Tice arrived in College Park two years ago as a celebrated football player. The news media had a field day describing his throwing ability. He was 6-foot-7, 230 pounds and the "star" label was on him long before he threw his first pass in a Maryland uniform.
He knew there would be a year serving an apprenticeship under senior quarterbacks Mark Manges and Larry Dick. But after that he would be the man.
"If education had been the most important thing to me I would have gone to an Ivy League school," Tice said. "But football has always been the most important thing. I came to Maryland to play big-time football.
"I'd be lying if I said I'm not depressed. But I'm more mature now. I won't sulk like last year. I'll do anything I can to help the team. I'm not just saying that, I mean it."
When the Maryland offense took the field Saturday against Wake Forest, Bob Milkovich, not Tice, was the starting quarterback. The same will be true Saturday when the 3-4 Terps visit 2-3-1 Duke.
Tice was on the sideline behind Coach Jerry Claiborne in that enigmatic situation all benchwarmers face: wanting desperately to play but knowing that only an injury or the failure of Milkovich -- a friend -- will get him into the lineup.
"I've blamed myself a lot for what's happened," said Tice, of Maryland's 3-3 record which led to his benching last week."My high school coach always told me that as the quarterback goes, so goes the team.
"Maybe that's not fair sometimes but if you're going to get the glory when the team wins, you have to accept the blame when they lose. But down deep I know it isn't just me.
"The only thing that's let me keep my sanity is the fact that a lot of guys have gone out of their way to tell me that. If I felt like everybody was saying, 'Thank God he's not playing,' I don't know what I would do.
"Things have been bad enough already."
Tice is as engaging a young man as one would want to meet. He readily admits that he came to Maryland with dreams of glory. He was the quarterback that would beat Penn State. He was the man with the cannon-like arm who would turn Claiborne's offense from tailback-tailback-tailback to pass-pass-pass.
But those dreams have not become a reality. Last year, as a sophomore, Tice lost out to Tim O'Hare. The fifth-year senior had only limited skills but enough experience and heart to win the nod from Claiborne.
Tice, willing to accept one year out of the limelight, but not two, pouted. He complained publicly, which did little to endear him to Claiborne. And he ignored his schoolwork, failing three courses during the fall semester.
"I guess you could say I didn't handle the situation too well, Tice said, laughing at the understatement. "I grew up a lot because of it, though. I'm never going to be a great student but at least now I know I want my degree.
"Now, even though this is the first time in my life I've been benched, I can handle it. You can't just go hide in your room, lock the door and never come out. Life has to go on."
But Tice admits that much of his life -- "110 percent of it" is football. Last spring he thought he might be through with football after separating his right shoulder on the last day of drills. His operation was termed a success but Tice isn't sure he fully recovered, mentally or physically.
"I've tried real hard not to use the shoulder as an excuse," he said. "But sometimes, looking back now, I think maybe I tried to come back a little too fast. I missed most of preseason so I wasn't as prepared as I should be.
"In the Clemson game, when I took all those sacks. I think maybe it was because I was ducking because I didn't want to get smacked in the shoulder. Before, I'd just stand in the pocket, throw the ball and take the hit. All of a sudden I was little guy-shy.
"The arm just didn't feel the same.Not that it hurt. But one day you're out there working with a bazooka, the next day it's a cap pistol.
"I don't know. My mom told me on the phone that a lot of people never come back from my injury. Maybe I expected too much of myself.
"Maybe other people expected too much, too. Everyone acted like I was supposed to be an All-American. Heck, I only threw 37 passes last year. This was my first year as a starter. I thought I was learning, slowly but surely.
"Then (a week ago) Sunday night, Bone (Claiborne) called us (the quarterbacks) in and says he has to make a change. We've only scored two touchdowns in the last three games so I understand. I understand, but it still hurts."
Tice say he will "do anything" to see the team come out of its coma and win. Last year at the end of the season, he volunteered to use his height to attempt to block field goals. He says if that is the only way he can help the team, he will do that again.
Tice does not play football to block field goals. But this fall has been a bittersweet experience for him, the three wins at the start giving him hope that he was on his way, the three losses turning October sour.
"Penn State really hurt me," he said. "Not just because we lost the ball game, but the fans. They booed me. I heard them. You can't not hear. b
"Some fans when their team gets behind, they get louder, they try to get them going. A lot of our fans either boo or leave. I guess they have a right to if they pay $9 to come in, but I still don't like to hear it. Our fans are front-runners, I guess.
Claiborne lashed out at the fans who booed Tice after the 27-7 loss to Penn State, saying, "Anyone who would boo a college athlete is bush."
But something along the line the intensely competitive coach -- although he denies it -- lost confidence in his quarterback.
So, he has turned to sophomore Milkovich.
"I don't know what Mike is thinking now," Milkovich said after the change was made. "I feel for him but I have too much to worry about myself. I hope it doesn't have a negative effect on him."
Which, of course, it will. It has to have a negative effect on a 21-year-old who candidly admits: "My only real goal in life is to play pro football. My family and football are all I really care about.
"If it weren't for the idea of pro football, I wouldn't be playing this damn game. I would't have taken the beating I've taken since I was 12. Sometimes people forget that while they're out drinking their beer I'm looking at film. I put up with that because I want to play in the pros."
Every college athlete who signed a letter of intent to a major college has the same wish. But Tice was labeled a "sure thing," when he was a senior in Central Islip, N.Y., and he believed that label. Now, halfway through his junior year he finds himself watching from the bench when the game begins. Tice won't complain about that role but his friends will.
"Mike deserves better," said one player. "He's the first one to say when he's messed up (Tice has been publicly self-critical throughout the season) but he's not alone in this. It's the entire offense, not just Mike."
Sitting on a bench staring at the empty seats of Byrd Stadium before practice this week, Tice tried to be philosophical.
"I'll do anything I can to help Bobby," he said. "I'll just wait my turn and hope O get another chance. I certainly hope this isn't the end."
For Tice, this season was supposed to be the beginning. There was to be no talk of endings or benchings. This was supposed to be the year he stepped in and began building the career he wants so badly.
"I really though I was improving," Tice said softly. "Now . . ." he shook his head and shrugged.
Now, all Mike Tice can do, is wait.