During Saturday's game against Clemson in Baltimore, Maryland football Coach Bobby Ross said he walked over to Jim Cavanaugh, running backs coach, who monitors the rotation of backs, and said, "Jim, Tommy Neal looks like he's having a hell of a day."
Cavanaugh, whose face must have registered a startled look, said, "Coach, Alvin Blount's going pretty good right now."
Ross, shaking his head at the end of the story yesterday, is glad he heard Cavanaugh. Blount wasn't going pretty good. He was going great. By the end of the day, Blount had carried the ball 29 times for 214 yards and two touchdowns.
"I just didn't sense he was piling up that much yardage," Ross said. "I had no idea. It was certainly a surprise to me."
Neal, like Blount a sophomore halfback, rushed 13 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns. But Blount's 214 yards were the best by a Maryland running back since Willie Joyner gained 240 two years ago against North Carolina and the fourth best in Maryland football history.
What makes Blount's yardage total phenomenal is that Maryland doesn't play one halfback, as was the case when Joyner ran for 240. Ross now uses two halfbacks -- Blount and Neal -- and fullback Rick Badanjek, who may as well be a halfback on some Saturdays.
Blount and Neal are rotated systematically unless one gets hot early. Against Clemson, Blount started the game, as he usually does, and gained 56 yards on the opening drive in eight carries, including eight yards for a touchdown.
Still, Neal worked the next two series, but, as Blount recalled, "He got a little winded, and asked to come out for a couple of plays. We both do that if we get winded."
When Neal relinquished his spot, Blount wouldn't give it back. There was another series when Blount ran five yards, 19 yards, then 11 more to set up a touchdown that gave Maryland a 14-7 lead.
Then came a sequence that usually only running backs at Oklahoma or Nebraska can hope for.
With Maryland trailing by six early in the third quarter, Blount carried 16 yards on first down, 10 yards a few plays later for another first down, then 13 yards for another and 13 yards again for the touchdown.
On another drive, he had carries of eight and 11 yards, then consecutive rushes of 11 yards. The most impressive thing about Blount's performance was that he didn't have a single carry longer than 19 yards.
"I was so excited, I just kept getting the ball and getting first downs, but I had no idea I had that much yardage. Guys kept coming over and patting me on the back, but I thought they were joking until the end of the game when everybody came up to congratulate me."
Blount was especially effective on Maryland's slant plays, perhaps because Blount's running style is a slant in itself.
Although he is 6 feet and 200 pounds, Blount is not what one would describe as a power back. Ross, in describing his three primary backs, says, "Tommy is the accelerator, Rick Badanjek is the bulldozer and Alvin is the slasher."
Badanjek said, "You aren't going to see any dipping the shoulder from Alvin. He's elusive. He likes to swerve and get through the hole the quickest way he can."
And Blount said, "Let's see, describe my style? Well, I see a hole, I get to it. Tommy was a linebacker in high school, and I think he likes the contact even though he's a back now. If I can go from one point to another without getting hit, I'll do it."
Blount runs the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds. His eight-yard touchdown was typical of a Blount run. He faked one Clemson defender and hurdled another for the score.
If Blount was the halfback in a conventional offense, he'd surely have more than 1,000 yards rushing by now, probably more than 1,200. As is, Blount leads Maryland in rushing, with 665 yards. But Badanjek is close behind with 615 and Blount not far back with 546.
"The primary objective is to keep them fresh and rested," Cavanaugh explained. "It's hard to talk about one without talking about the other because they're interchangeble the way we use them."
Blount and Neal both have two 100-yard-or-better rushing days. Blount has 17 receptions, Neal 12.
Most people in the Washington area knew Neal was capable of being a big-time college running back because he was Maryland suburban player of the year as a senior at Magruder High.
Not as much was known about Blount, who played at Eleanor Roosevelt High. "I don't think people expected that much of me because I came from Roosevelt, and I don't think they expected that much of me here," said Blount, who at one point was leaning toward playing at Kentucky for Jerry Claiborne.
"I used to read about Tommy Neal in the newspapers," Blount said of his best friend. "But I never met him until I took my visit here as a senior in high school. Tommy was already a star by then." It didn't take Blount much longer.