As a toddler in late 1985, David Holloway barely understood that his father, Brian, was the New England Patriots' team captain who, within weeks, would play in the Super Bowl. He also was unaware that, around that time, his father would have an encounter that would prove as defining for him as it would be for David 19 years later.

Holloway's father exchanged autographs with Christa McAuliffe, the teacher-astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion. McAuliffe's written message, which Brian Holloway still treasures: "Reach for the stars -- I'll be there."

"It was one of those defining moments when you can meet someone and it changes your life forever," Brian Holloway said. "I've worked so hard to surround the children with people, leaders, thinkers -- ordinary people who have extraordinary missions."

McAuliffe's ideals -- goals, discipline, focus -- resonate today with David, the 20-year-old Maryland redshirt sophomore who went from walk-on to scholarship starter in a matter of weeks.

It's a detailed philosophy Holloway absorbed from his father, a five-time Pro Bowler who has given motivational speeches to nearly 200 Fortune 500 companies. The elder Holloway taught his son training and performance "secrets" to reach his potential. Asked what that potential is, Brian Holloway said: "unlimited."

Added Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen, "David is a kid who came here on a mission. His mission was to play Division I football."

Holloway played in two games last season, but worked primarily on the defensive scout team. The 6-foot-2, 222-pound linebacker played well enough in the spring that Friedgen told him, "If you play like that in the summer, a scholarship will be there."

At that point, Holloway knew it was a lock because, "I knew I wasn't going to do as good as in the spring. I was going to do better."

Through three games in 2004, Holloway has recorded 19 tackles, third-best on the team. In the season-opening victory over Northern Illinois, he recovered a fumble on kickoff coverage that led to a Maryland touchdown early in the third quarter.

Injuries to backups at strong-side linebacker have made Holloway's emergence even more critical as the 23rd-ranked Terps (2-1) prepare to play at Duke on Saturday. Said Friedgen, "I'd hate to see where we'd be if we didn't have him right now."

Holloway has been mentored not only by his father but also by his maternal grandfather, Johnny "Pie" McKenzie, who played two decades in the NHL and told David he used to run the Boston Garden steps before games.

Holloway's early memories around his father involve riding a tricycle in the locker room at the Pro Bowl, weaving around future Hall of Famers.

"Having a father in the NFL is kind of the side stuff," Holloway said. "You can ask him, 'Dad, what do I do when someone comes to block me like this?' He'll give me little clues. So it's an advantage there. But the big advantage is him teaching me as I'm growing up."

Brian Holloway said he noticed that his son had dexterity and athletic awareness at an early age, remembering when David fell from a tree once and grabbed a branch to catch himself. The training did not become serious until David asked, "Dad, tell me what you know."

The elder Holloway told his son how to streamline a workout from three hours to just more than an hour. He explained details: Tape your hands underneath your gloves when you play in the north. And he developed hand signals with his son so the two could communicate during David's high school football games.

David and his friends often worked out in the barn on the family's sprawling ranch in Stephentown, N.Y. It had cement floors, contained much of Brian Holloway's old equipment and was open 24 hours a day. All they needed was a stereo, several layers of clothing and winter gloves.

They ran up nearby "Suicide Hill" and through a sand-bottom lake with waist-high water to improve speed and power.

"The discipline," David Holloway said, "was instilled in me when I was growing up."

David knows his father's "seven secrets to outperform anyone," which are detailed in part on Brian Holloway's Web site. He understands when his father says, "You hear with your eyes; see with your ears on the field." And he can relate when his father speaks of playing with a passion that goes beyond merely trying to win, but competing with a ferocity that is almost "primal deep."

Focus is not one of David Holloway's weaknesses. He said he drank maybe one soda all summer. He often wakes up early in the summer and, if he feels lazy, scribbles down goals for the year, the day or even the hour. His pedigree, he said, has been a blessing, not added pressure.

"My dad's told me to go out and follow my dreams," Holloway said. "Whatever route I go, he expects I take it really far and high."

Note: Defensive end Kevin Eli (concussion) will not play Saturday.

Terps' David Holloway's father was a five-time NFL Pro Bowler: "Discipline was instilled in me when I was growing up."