There is nothing particularly pretty about Rick Badanjek, save for this one sweet career statistic: 43 touchdowns in 43 games.
Certainly, there isn't any trace of aesthetic beauty in the way he runs, or in the way he's built. Badanjek, Maryland's senior fullback, has 225 pounds packed into a 5-foot-9 frame. When asked once what he thought of his running style, he said, "I see myself on videotape and I laugh like hell. I see these stubby little legs just a goin'. It's sorta funny. You wonder how I get it done. But heck, I get it done."
Badanjek is the player who turns out to be better than everyone thought he would be. Coming into his senior year, he had scored more touchdowns and more points than any player in Maryland history. Most of the touchdowns haven't been pretty either. Of his 38 regular season touchdown runs, 17 have been from the one-yard line, six from the two and four from the three. He has three touchdowns in bowl games and has two touchdown catches. Count it again: 43 in 43.
There is nothing sweet or pretty or cool about the way Badanjek plays. On several Saturday nights, Badanjek says he has had to take tranquilizers to sleep because running over linebackers that day has left his body wracked with pain. At Maryland, they call him Rambo.
Yesterday, Badanjek sat in the players' lounge below the locker room, reflecting on four years of tough carries, his final four games as a Terrapin, and the possibility of playing professional football. You wouldn't know he sat there with a bruised thigh or a sprained ankle or a scratched cornea in his left eye unless you begged him to talk about it.
Badanjek woke up last Saturday with his left eye swollen shut, he thinks from a problem with his contact lens. With a contact lens in one eye and the other eye closed, he played against Duke Saturday and rushed for a team-high 56 yards and two touchdowns. This Saturday against North Carolina, he'll grudgingly wear special goggles.
Often on Mondays, Badanjek has been ordered by the coaches not to practice, but he shows up anyway. "He wasn't supposed to practice Monday because of his eye," Coach Bobby Ross said. "I turned around and there he was. We've always told them to draw the distinction between pain and injury. Rick doesn't draw that line."
Badanjek, told that a few of his teammates have compared him to Rambo, said, "What? Come on. Rambo is tough. I'm not that tough. Look, it's just little stuff: a bruised thigh, a sore ankle, a cut cornea. It's not like it's a broken leg or anything."
Badanjek may be tough, but he isn't mean. Nobody takes more teasing than Badanjek, and nobody hands out more. A drink left unattended is sure to wind up spiked with Tabasco sauce if Badanjek is nearby.
"He's the same now as four years ago when he was a nobody," Maryland strength coordinator Frank Costello said. "It's impossible not to like the guy. How can you not get a kick out of him? Try and find somebody who doesn't like Rick Badanjek. You won't."
If Badanjek is a somebody now, it's because he made himself somebody. Pound for pound, he is by far the strongest player on the team. Badanjek doesn't see any need for the qualifier "pound for pound."
"He's so tough, like that Rambo type, that he doesn't like getting beat at anything," said Len Lynch, Maryland's 270-pound offensive guard. "He comes into the weight room and tries to outlift the linemen. He'll beat us anyway, sometime."
There doesn't seem to be a spot on Badanjek's body where there isn't a muscle. "I remember the first time I saw Rick," Costello said. "I'd never seen anybody built like that guy is built. I laughed. He's the same size in all directions. You can turn him upside down and he's the same size that way. You could put his gloves on his feet or his shoes on his hands. His arms and legs seem the same. And his inseam? My 5-year-old son has a longer inseam than Rick.
"He's just a thick, solid, compact, explosive individual. He bench presses about 440 pounds now and runs a 4.67 in the 40-yard dash. And he has a 31-inch vertical leap. I think that if he was ever able to train without having injuries, which is seldom the case, he'd be able to bench press more than 500 pounds and get his 40 time down under 4.6."
The numbers translate into a power that punishes defenders. "And since all that power's so close to the ground, he has tremendous balance," Lynch said. "He can take a lick and stay upright. And balance is the most important thing in short-yardage running."
Badanjek also is capable of breakaway runs. He had a 65-yard touchdown and a 72-yard carry against Virginia last year, compiling 217 yards in only 17 carries. But Badanjek's overwhelming value is that he is one of the most dependable short-yardage runners in the country.
The pro scouts have been suitably impressed. "He's definitely going to play (in the NFL) because of his versatility," said Dick Steinberg, director of player development for the New England Patriots. "He's a very effective short-yardage and goal-line runner."
At the goal line, or on third- or fourth-down situations calling for three yards or fewer, Badanjek almost always gets the call and opposing defenses know it, making his task that much more difficult.
"Sometimes, I wonder about those situations myself," he said. "I'm not the type of guy who says a lot in the huddle. But a couple of times I've said, 'They know who it's going to, so let's make it happen.' "
Lynch says Badanjek will throw in a wink before the huddle breaks, just for good measure.
"You don't think of one-, two- and three-yard runs as being memorable runs. But he's had so many," said Ross, whose favorite Badanjek touchdown run is a fourth-and-goal carry from the two, his freshman year, against Clemson in a game for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Badanjek was hit by three players, including Terry Kinard -- now of the New York Giants. But he slipped underneath into the end zone to get Maryland back into a classic game they eventually lost.
"We took Dave D'Addio out and put me in on fourth and goal from the two," Badanjek recalled. "It was a 39-toss, and three Clemson guys came right at me. I swear, I still don't know how I got away from them."
There have been other games, and other memorable runs. The vast majority of them have been pleasant, including a one-yard run with two minutes left in the game that beat Tennessee, 28-27, in the Sun Bowl last season. But there is the memory of one run that still hurts far more than any thigh bruise, any sore ankle, any scratched cornea.
Ever since the start of the season, Badanjek couldn't wait to play at Michigan. He grew up in Southington, Ohio, a Big Ten boy. He wanted to show the people in the Midwest that Maryland could play a little ball, too. But Badanjek carried only five times, for 28 yards, at Michigan Stadium. And one of those carries was a fumble at the Maryland one that practically gave Michigan a touchdown, and more momentum en route to a 20-0 victory.
"Let's be honest about what happened to me in the Michigan game," Badanjek said. "I went out there to the Big Ten, home, and I stunk up the place. I graded out 43 percent (his lowest). They (his coaches and teammates) couldn't believe it was me. I fumbled the ball after the defense got it back for us. I wanted to quit right then. I was down."
What Badanjek doesn't say is that perhaps he was too hurt to play. The ankle, the thigh. He didn't say it then, and won't now. "Injury is no excuse," he said.
Clearly, the people at Maryland know they are fortunate to have him on their side.
Badanjek always loved the Ohio State Buckeyes. "I still do," he said. But he grew up the product of an interracial marriage and didn't like the state of race relations he found on the team. "When I visited the campus, I stayed with a couple of black guys, and I never saw any white guys until mealtime . . . " Badanjek said in an interview his freshman year. "The black players and white players really didn't mix until game day."
Penn State had asked Badanjek to go to prep school to improve his grades. "But I heard so much about the academics at Penn State, I was worried about it," he said. "It wasn't that I was dumb, but I didn't apply myself then. I've come to appreciate the importance of education and college."
But before that appreciation set in, Badanjek visited Maryland. He, Steve Kelly and Jeff Holinka -- teammates at Glen Mills Prep and now at Maryland -- visited and saw the sights of College Park with Lynch.
Jerry Claiborne, who first recruited Badanjek for Maryland, already had left to coach Kentucky. He called again. "I said, 'Kentucky?' All I could think of was Daniel Boone and those coonskin hats they wear," Badanjek said. "I didn't even know what a Terrapin was, but I felt comfortable here."
Ross knows he would feel uncomfortable without Badanjek. "Coaches always look for guys they can really rely upon," Ross said. "He's been a model football player, tremendously productive. You go into a game, and there are certain people you can rely upon. I find myself saying, 'We've gotta get the ball to Rick more.' "
That's what Badanjek loves to hear. Last year, he had 173 carries for 832 yards, a remarkable average of 4.8 yards per carry for a fullback who specializes in short-yardage. Considering all his injuries, would he change his style of running? Dodge rather than blast?
"Change my running style?" he said. "Why should I? It's not pretty. But it's something I'll just have to live with, I guess."