New 'Maryland Way Guarantee' Resonates

Several locals and former Terps comment on Maryland's new "Maryland Way Guarantee"

Former Terps All-American punter Brooks Barnard at first had dreams of being a weatherman, the next Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel (his favorite channel to this day), so struck out of high school in Annapolis, Md., to Norman, Okla., to first study meteorology at their renowned department and then walk on the Oklahoma Sooners football team.

At the time, he was recruited as a walk-on specialist by schools such as NC State, Florida State and Georgia Tech, told by each that he would first have to make the team and then a scholarship may await.

A year later, he was at Maryland, a freshman All-American punter and now a Kinesiology major to boot, yet still not on scholarship as he began a four-year Terrapin odyssey under at first Ron Vanderlinen, and then two years under Ralph Friedgen, who finally gave him a scholarship.

So if Maryland's new 'Maryland Way Guarantee’ lifetime scholarship, announced last month, resonates with anyone it could be Barnard, who lived his life on the cusp between walk-on and scholarship player, working summers at a local crab house to make ends meet to earn a degree, and once famous for stuffing fast food in his stomach pre-game at Byrd Stadium because he couldn't eat at the training table.

Maryland and Kevin Anderson took a proactive step, which many schools may follow, of guaranteeing lifetime scholarships regardless of expired eligibility, injury or whatever else may befall a student-athlete in their careers at College Park. If they leave school in good standing they can return at any time with the costs of tuition, books and fees included. Some schools claim such guarantees in football and basketball, but Maryland’s new plan will cover all sports, a first of its kind.

Barnard said it would be a huge incentive if he were a recruit these days. He saw how fleeting things could be, and knew at any turn his circuitous career could have gone another way had he not had the opportunity for an education through a scholarship. "Absolutely it would," said Barnard, who now works for Under Armour as a team rep. TT caught up with him recently at a Gilman football scrimmage, one of the national prep programs he represents. "Obviously, when you are playing sports like I did you have aspirations to keep climbing the ladder and going to every level. But realistically, in terms of odds, it doesn't happen. So it's important these days to get that degree. And to have that in my back pocket, to do that? That would definitely be a carrot in my face to come to a university knowing I am protected for the future down the road and outside of football."

Barnard graduated in five years after beginning his career at Oklahoma and transferring to Maryland after a year. He wanted to give football a try back home, in front home of his family. But he had no idea if and when he would get a scholarship, so a college degree meant the world to him, be it in four, five years, whatever.

"It's a funny story because the day I was leaving for OU, well Maryland wanted me to come there. Then the day I was leaving OU, Coach Stoops wanted me to stay at Oklahoma. But it all worked out in the end," Barnard said.

At College Park, he was a preferred walk-on at first, but it took until Friedgen arrived before he was put on scholarship after starting under Vanderlinden and not only earning Freshman AA honors, but twice being named all-ACC. But still no 'ship.

"When Friedgen came in he pulled me into his office and that was his first line of business, to give me a scholarship," Barnard said. "The joke was I was an All-American in one way shape or form and I was sneaking 'Big Macs' into the locker room before games. But honestly, I was just thankful to play. It made some things challenging, but I was just thankful to be getting a degree."

Barnard said that with Maryland now entering an even bigger league like the Big Ten, well the benefits of the 'Maryland Way Guarantee' could be even more significant.

"I think it is huge if you step back and look at it big-picture," Barnard said. "When you are we are playing in the Big Ten, we're under the lights, so to speak. So you got guys now that really have a lot of aspirations to play at the next level. So sometimes your vision may get a little cloudy. So to be able to do that, still pursue your dream and if things don't work out whether it is an injury, performance, however you want to title it...well to still come back and get your degree and continue on another road in your life, well it's very important."

At that same scrimmage, TT caught up with another former Terp, offensive lineman Pat Ward, who played under Mark Duffner and now coaches the line at St. John's (DC) High School. He said he heard the news about the 'Maryland Way Guarantee' lifetime scholarship and it hit home with him, too. Ward admitted he wasn't the greatest student while at St. John's, the Hendon, Va., native lagging behind both in his GPA and standardized test scores, so he knows the value of a college degree. He was recruited by Maryland, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Clemson "but I was kinda always going to go to Maryland," Ward admitted.

"I think it is great because the biggest thing is that is why you are at school," Ward said. "That's why you go to the university, to get the education, and that's what we try to teach all our kids: that sports is a gateway to helping you get that education to help you throughout your life."

Ward tells his players all the time of a study that states that a college degree "gets you a million dollars extra earning power throughout your lifetime," he said. "So I think that is key, as guys leave for a variety of reasons. But if they can always come back and get their education? That is so key because football is a fleeting game."

Ward said the opportunity to have that to fall back on will be huge, with not only prospects but parents alike "and I am a 40-year old man now so I can see it from all sides now."

Ward said he sees reminders every day of former teammates and colleagues that went on to play in the NFL, or got derailed for various reasons, but never got their degree. Ward said life and family issues can cause an athlete to leave school prematurely. He also cited the built-in benefits of academic support when returning to school.

"There are some guys that just struggle to finish," Ward said. "You know, playing football and trying to get an education at the same time? Well, it's like having two full-time jobs. So if you could ever come back and really concentrate just on an education, well that would be huge."

Ward admits if it were not for football, "the only way I would have gotten into Maryland was pushing a broom. I was an academic exemption to get in. St. John's was tough, it was tougher than Maryland, because you got to pick and choose what you want to study at college. So it was tough for me out of high school."

Ward said that it’s sad some of the friends he has known over the years who failed to get a sheepskin, and hopes one day the policy could even become retroactive for former players as well.

"I am lucky to be involved with football still. But I could not have my job if I did not have a college education," said Ward, who graduated in five years as well.

Finally, TT caught up with someone with perhaps even more perspective -- as a former college athlete and now the parent of a Maryland senior football player (defensive end Andre Monroe Jr.,) and soon another son, St. John's senior Ayron Monroe, who has committed to Penn State as a safety.

Andre Monroe Sr. told TT that the new plan Maryland announced is a "game-changer," in his mind.

Monroe Sr. competed in football and track at Virginia State University. He finished in four-and-a-half years, needing the extra time after shattering his ankle "and for one semester I couldn't even get to class." So he knows the fleeting feeling all too well.

"And it is because when a kid is matriculating through school, and he is playing football as a student-athlete, well a lot of times kids don't want to admit it but they're focused on trying to make it to the next level," Monroe said. "And they are not as mature in their thinking about the real possibilities of that."

Monroe said that once you finish your eligibility, and then go through life having not made a pro league, "well, now you can have the ability to come back when you are more mature and more focused on your education. So it becomes a real big deal. So to be able to say no matter what if I go to this particular school then I have more than one opportunity to get my degree because, actually, I am given multiple opportunities to get my degree."

Monroe, who works in law enforcement, said he has known many college athletes who have regrets looking back, including some who got injured and never finished their degree simply because they couldn't.

Son Andre graduated in four years at College Park, and is finishing his Terp career this fall as a graduate student. But not everyone has been so fortunate.

"It is a big deal, and in my personal opinion the other schools are going to have to get on board now with that plan. They have to," Monroe Sr. said.

Looking back on his own playing experience and injury, he said he would have felt more assured had a plan like the 'Maryland Way Guarantee' been around then.

"It would be a very comfortable feeling knowing that there is no pressure to do it in a certain amount of time. That I can concentrate on my health and say, ‘you know what, I am going to get my degree because I have the time to do so.’"

Monroe Sr., said he has a friend he played college football with (Monroe Sr., graduated in 1989), who is still trying to finish his degree "and on his own dime. And we talk about it all the time. He really, really wished he would have stayed focused and got his degree when he was at school. But if this policy was in place, he would have gotten his degree a long time ago. But he had to wait until it was the best opportunity for him to go back."

He said his teammate suffered an injury, which set him back and got him depressed, which led to him leaving school. He said the 'Maryland Way Guarantee' policy could change all that, and set a trend.

"I believe that Maryland has set the bar really, really high with this new policy for student-athletes to be able to get their education. The other schools, to have to just stay in the recruiting battle to get the athletes they want to…they will have to, too. Because as a parent, as a parent I am going to have to start to say, 'hey look, this is something that you have to consider.’ And this is something where a parent may step in and say, 'I am going to take control of this situation.' A lot of times parents don't always do that but now you are forcing the hand of a parent. So it is something we all have to look at as parents now."

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