Drew Komlo knew how far it was from the University of Maryland to Catholic University, not so much in miles as in atmosphere. But the trip from Division I to Division III was one he decided to make last season and now, after throwing only two passes in three years at Maryland, Komlo is the starting quarterback at Catholic.
"I knew when I left that some things wouldn't be the same," he said. "I knew I would have to pay for school, pay for my apartment. I knew there weren't going to be 60,000 fans and there's not going to be the glamor of big-time college football."
Other things will be different for Komlo at Catholic. At Maryland there was Dan Henning, coming off a successful junior season, and there was Neil O'Donnell and Scott Zolak, younger guys who appeared to be moving ahead of Komlo. And there was new Coach Joe Krivak, formerly the Terrapins' quarterbacks coach, who made it clear that Komlo's chances to start were slim.
When Komlo announced he was leaving College Park for Catholic, he said his teammates expressed surprise. "They said, 'Drew, why go to Division III? You're gonna be the best athlete around,' " he recalled.
Dressed in a Chicago Bears hat, Cherry Bowl T-shirt and Maryland shorts one day before practice, Komlo sounds sure about what he can do with his two years at Catholic. He doesn't know what the season passing record is for Division III (3,274 yards by Keith Bishop of Wheaton, Ill., College in 1983), but he hopes to break it. And he's only heard of a few teams on the Cardinals' schedule, but he says he plans to help them go far beyond the memory of a 2-8-1 season in 1986.
"I really can't see us not getting a playoff berth," he says. "I think we're going to have things going this year. The guys really believe in themselves."
Komlo is nothing if not confident. At Catholic he is working under a former NFL coach, Fred O'Connor, and hopes to make the jump to the pros after Catholic.
After Komlo's brother Jeff quarterbacked several NFL teams, his father, Bill, said it was his dream to have two sons play professionally. Komlo said his dad wouldn't be disappointed if it didn't work out, but added, "Right now, I not only want to fulfill my father's drream, but my own."
At 6 foot 4 and 215 pounds, Komlo doesn't look like your everyday Division III player. And he's finding playing football is no picnic at any level.
Since there is no spring practice, Catholic holds three practices a day, including a 45-minute evening practice in shorts and T-shirts to go over the day's mistakes. During the afternoon practice, Catholic has full contact -- the "tough one," Komlo said -- but it doesn't make the evening practice any easier. "At night you just go and do it, even though everyone's tired and they don't want to come."
Still, Komlo said there is a tough, work-oriented spirit at Catholic. "The attitude here is they want to do it," he said. "They're out for themselves."
O'Connor, a former NFL offensive coach who once headed the San Francisco 49ers, said he also likes the attitude of Catholic players. After three years as athletic director, O'Connor added coaching duties for the first time this year, and says he's glad he did.
"I didn't realize it until I got back into it, but I missed it," he said, adding that he has not changed his coaching style much. "Whether you're teaching at Harvard or at high school, the tools don't change. Football is football anywhere you go -- other than athletic ability, nothing changes."