At 6 feet 6, 301 pounds, J.D. Maarleveld is one of the most noticeable sights in the Maryland football locker room. He doesn't walk as much as he sort of moves, thigh by thigh.
Maarleveld moves well enough on the offensive line, however, to be contending this week for a starting job at left tackle. That would help complete an extaordinary comeback.
For two years, Maarleveld sat on the bench trying to break into the lineup at Notre Dame. But for him college football became secondary, at best, when in the summer of 1982 he was diagnosed as having Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer.
"So you can see why it felt so great for me to play on Saturday (against Syracuse)," he said yesterday. "I consider this my first time really playing. (He barely got into three lopsided games at Notre Dame.) When I went on the field, I had tears in my eyes."
Maarleveld didn't plan to matriculate at Maryland, which was one of the schools that sought to recruit him out of Rutherford, N.J.
He thought that when he got well -- after various treatments -- he would return to Notre Dame.
"They told me, 'When you get well, you come back and we'll leave a spot open for you,' " Maarleveld related. "But when I got well, they said, 'Well, we don't think you should come back and play football.' They said I could come back on scholarship but not play football.
"I didn't want that," he said. "And when my father called the NCAA to check on my eligibility, he found out Notre Dame had given out all of its scholarships and was up to the limit."
Maarleveld's parents, John and Marianne, bought a motor home and drove 12 hours out to South Bend, Ind., for every Notre Dame home game during the two seasons J.D. was on the team. Marianne Maarleveld recalled yesterday the way she found out her son wouldn't play for the Fighting Irish again.
"I had been on the telephone with Coach (Gerry) Faust, say on a Monday, and he said, 'Oh, we've got a spot for your son. Whenever he gets back we'll be glad to have him,' and that kind of stuff. But on Tuesday, we got a visitor, a priest friend from Notre Dame. He came and said he didn't know if he should tell us, but he had been out to visit the football office. He said, 'Well, he can come back, but he'll never play football.' "
"They wrote him off," Maarleveld's mother said. "All he could have done was practice with the team. I couldn't believe him. So I called him -- Coach Faust -- and told him what we heard. He said he never really expected him to come back and play."
Marianne Maarleveld went out and found her son, where he was lifting weights to stay in shape. "I told him, 'Let's go for a drive.' And I told him what took place. He cried more that day than he did the day they told him he had cancer."
Faust, reached last night in South Bend, said he held the 95th (the limit) scholarship for Maarleveld and gave it to a walk-on kicker only after it was understood that Maarleveld would not be returning.
"We wanted him to come back," Faust said. "But I did want him to sit out a year and get his strength back and make sure he was okay. I think they (his parents) misinterpreted the whole thing. They thought we wanted to get rid of him and we didn't.
"I'm really disappointed to hear he (J.D.) feels this way," Faust said. "He's a great kid. They don't come any better than John."
Faust tried to help Maarleveld get into a Division II school, his mother said. But with some assistance from a friend of the family who is a high school coach, the Maarlevelds began contacting the Division I schools that had sounded out J.D. in high school, including Maryland, Pitt and Boston College.
Maarleveld, now a junior in eligibility, was cleared to play. "His doctors say he's cured," his mother said.
Of Maryland, Maarleveld said, "It's great here; it's where I should have been all along. Coach Ross has given me an opportunity."
And Maarleveld has shown Ross he deserves the chance to fight for a starting spot in the lineup.
"He's always been a big man," Ross said.
It feels great," Maarleveld said, "just to be playing again."