With 10:30 still left in the second quarter and Maryland leading Mississippi State 9-0 last Saturday, Dale Castro trotted out onto the field in Byrd Stadium once again. After almost nonchalantly toeing the 22-yard line, Castro stepped back from the spot where holder Brent Dewitz would place the ball and waited. By now, the scene that ensued had become as predictable and familiar as the gray clouds scudding overhead on this windy, rainy afternoon in College Park, Md.
This was the fourth time in 14 minutes that Coach Jerry Claiborne had sent in Castro to try a field goal. At the end of Maryland's first series of downs, Claiborne had called on Castro to boot one from 45 yards out. It was good. Up went the officials' arms. Up went the roar of the Maryland cannon. Up from their seats came the Terrapin fans. Up went the score: 3-0. Less than a minute into the second quarter, Castro struck again, this time from 29 yards, to make it 6-0, and 2:38 later he had hit once more, this time from 18 yards, to make it 9-0.
And now, he was ready to try a fourth time. Like all good field-goal kickers, Castro has a stroke that's as grooved as a golfer's. "It's natural to me," he says. "I think: 'Keep the head down. Follow through. And point the toe of the plant foot—the left foot—toward the goalposts.' If I do that, I know the ball will go there."
The ball did go there, to give Maryland a 12-0 lead. Though Castro didn't know it at the time, his kick had tied the NCAA record for the most field goals kicked in a half. More important, it was another indication of why Maryland is 3-0 and a surprise contender for a Top 20 ranking and the ACC title.
The Terrapins went on to crush Mississippi State 35-14, and Castro's kicking—he had a fifth field goal, a 42-yarder, in the fourth quarter, and punted four times for an average of 41.8 yards—earned him MVP honors for the game. Moreover, he is now the leading kicker in the nation, having connected on all 10 of his field-goal tries this season. His 36 points also tie him for the NCAA scoring lead. And all this from a walk-on, who had come to Maryland as a baseball recruit in the hope he could earn a scholarship with his pitching.
Castro never got to show his smoke, because he came down with mononucleosis in the fall of his freshman year and spent his days watching football workouts. He had kicked in high school at Shady Side, Md. and began to figure that he could boot the ball as well as anyone he had seen in a Maryland jersey. So, he tried out. By the start of the next season, he had won a scholarship—in football.
If this saga of a man stepping out of nowhere to perform heroics seems a bit unlikely, be advised that, in effect, this is what has happened to a number of the football players at College Park this fall. For the Terps this has been a season of walk-ons, rookies and replacements stepping in to play magnificently. Certainly foremost among them is sophomore Charles DeGraffenreid Wysocki, a substitute running back in his freshman year who has become the No. 1 ballcarrier in the nation.
As might be expected, as the Terps' star, Wysocki has the most startling tale to tell. Born the 12th of 14 children of a struggling black family in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., he is today the third child of an affluent white family from the same town. At the start of the ninth grade, DeGraffenreid was befriended by Steve Wysocki, the son of Stan Wysocki, a masonry contractor, and his wife Pat. Not long after Steve first brought Charlie to his house to watch home movies of their Meyers High football games, the Wysockis invited the youngster back for dinner. That was just the beginning. In fact, every Tuesday night that fall, young DeGraffenreid dined at the Wysockis'.
"It seemed like we opened the door, Charlie came in and that was that," says Stan Wysocki. "He just became part of the family. That's the way it happened."
"I simply thought my parents [the Wysockis] were great people," Charlie says.
Through that first year, as Charlie attended ninth grade, he spent increasingly more time at the Wysocki home. By the spring he was stopping by so often for breakfast that Pat Wysocki gave him a key so he could let himself in. That summer he vacationed with the Wysockis in Atlantic City, and by the beginning of the next school year, he had moved into their house. "When somebody is born into the family," says Millie Wysocki, Charlie's older sister, "you don't think about whether you're going to love him or her. You love the new kid simply because he or she is your brother or sister. It was the same with Charlie. It was like this was his place."
The elder Wysockis treated Charlie as if he were one of their own children, even giving him an allowance; and the summer following his sophomore year in high school, Stan and Pat adopted him legally. It seemed the natural thing to do. "At that point, he had been here so long and we felt so close to him that we already thought of him as a member of the family," Stan says.
Charlie Wysocki is guarded about why he left his natural family. He wants to put that part of his life in his past, he says. Whatever his reasons, his natural mother consented to sign the adoption papers, although reluctantly. "I just did it to satisfy Charles," she says now. "But I didn't want to do it."
Though the formal adoption was complete with the signing of the papers, it wasn't until his senior year that Charlie made the final break, legally changing his name from DeGraffenreid to Wysocki. By that time it was clear that Stan and Pat had a football star as well as a new son. Stan still groans when he thinks about the recruiters. "Wherever you go, they follow you," he says. "It's letters. It's telephones. It's unreal.
"One night a Wyoming coach was here showing films. The Maryland coach was lying on the floor watching them. Then the doorbell rang, and the Maryland coach answered it. It was a Temple coach. He sat on the couch watching the films."
Maryland won the recruiting war, and this year Claiborne's persistence has begun to pay dividends. Wysocki is the leading rusher in the nation with a 159.3-yards-per-game average, having gained 478 yards on 89 carries, and is second in all-purpose running with a 178.7 average.
"It's good to have a runner like Charlie back there," says Kervin Wyatt, an offensive guard who at 6'1" and 242 pounds has two inches and 52 pounds on Wysocki. "Charlie doesn't have that great, great speed, but he still picks up those yards in a hurry. And I'll tell you, he'll break some tackles."
Which is just what he did Saturday. He scored the first Terp touchdown on a 10-yard blast that seemed to come to a stop on the two, but Wysocki lunged into the end zone. In scoring his second TD, on a 73-yard zigzag gallop, he shook off three Bulldogs who had clear shots at him.
While Wysocki and Castro are leaders in national statistics, they are merely members of a pack of relative newcomers who have emerged boldly in a season during which the Terps figured to struggle. And that forecast came even before Claiborne lost several key players to injuries. Among the casualties is Defensive Back Lloyd Burruss, who broke his right leg and tore ligaments in his right ankle in preseason training. He is out for the year. And so, probably, is the team's best defensive lineman, Marlin Van Horn, who sustained a knee injury. And so is Eric Sievers, the starting tight end, who suffered a compression fracture of the left tibia. The secondary has been decimated. Not only is Burruss finished for the season, but starters Steve Trimble (separated shoulder) and John Baldante (strained knee ligaments) are sidelined. To make matters worse, on Saturday Defensive Tackle Ed Gall bruised his right knee and will miss next week's game against Kentucky.
Still, the Terps have kept right on winning; moreover, they seem to be improving with each game. They struggled to beat Villanova 24-20 in their opener and then upset Clemson 19-0, but they mauled Mississippi State. "When I first came here, we won the ACC championship," Wyatt says. "Last year it escaped us. This year we want it back. No matter how many people are hurt, we're going to fight to get it." With Castro and Wysocki, who have already proved they can challenge the odds and win, the Terps may, in fact, do that very thing.