Chuck Faucette has traded his feather earring for a more subdued diamond stud, and his fringed leather vest for a polo shirt, which is a decided improvement over no shirt at all.
Maryland's star linebacker has made a concerted effort to change his image in his senior year, the Terrapins' chief rogue suddenly becoming their most respected citizen, or so he would have you believe. He wears labels and he has hidden his black, wide-brimmed hat deep in a closet, which he submits as the final proof that he is no longer wild.
He is engaged to be married, he is a team captain and potential All-American, and he has trimmed his electric, fly-away hair. Last season, he was named All-Atlantic Coast Conference and was an honorable-mention All-American. This year, he is expected to become the Terrapins' all-time leading tackler. He began the season with 342 tackles, needing 143 to break Eric Wilson's record of 485 set in 1981-84. He now leads the team with 21.
"I used to be crazy," he said. "Now, I'm all preppy. I've matured, really. I wear Reeboks."
But he neglects to mention the piranhas. He raises them in his room.
"I don't want to know about that," co-captain Bruce Mesner said. "I don't know what he does in his own little corner of the world."
So for all of his better grooming, there are definite signs that Faucette is still sort of . . . different. Like his tattoos--the one on his arm that says UCLA and the Playboy bunny below his waist--he can hide the craziness under designer clothes, but he can't remove it altogether.
"He still dresses different," linebackers coach George Foussekis said. "It's just higher quality. You get stripes and spots together and things like that."
The look in his eye is sometimes blacker than his hat. He has an easy, 100-watt smile, but that, too, can turn menacing. Every so often, he reverts to form, the leather jacket comes out of the closet and the hat goes on.
"There's still a little craze in me," he admits. "I take out the leather jackets for old times' sake, when I get in a wild mood."
There are 17 of the carnivorous fish living in a 100-gallon tank in Faucette's off-campus apartment. "It's my hobby," he says with a shrug. He has another tank full of other exotic fish, which are not unlike him. At 6 feet 2 and 238 pounds, and with a mixture of Indian, French, black (his father) and Italian (his mother) blood, he also is a strikingly exotic figure. "Different parts come out at different times," he said.
Faucette strutted into College Park four years ago, an 18-year-old going on 30 who had played two years of minor league baseball. He had a mouth that scattered profanity and cockiness indiscriminately, and jaws fell as he drove around campus in one of his two Corvettes, one burgundy, one black. His feathers dangled, fringe flapped from his black leather vest with no shirt, the buccaneer hat pulled low.
"I thought he was a total hot dog," strength coach Frank Costello said. "He reeked of confidence, semi-conceit and self-assuredness."
On his forearm was a huge blue tattoo that said "UCLA." That's where his saga started, with a drunken night on Hollywood Boulevard. "I was pretty wasted," he said.
The son of a steel worker and music teacher from Willingboro, N.J., Faucette was a two-sport blue-chipper out of Willingboro High School who played running back and linebacker for the football team and outfielder for the baseball team, and who also could dabble with guitar, piano, drums and clarinet. With a B average and a score of more than a 1,000 on his college boards, he was recruited by Michigan and Stanford, among others, but was determined to play running back for UCLA.
He signed his letter of intent and hit Hollywood Boulevard, where he got tattooed with the intent of keeping the Bruins close to his heart forever. But the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies also wanted him. The Blue Jays flew him to spring training in Florida, where they bought him off with sunshine, a first-class airline ticket, the burgundy Corvette and a $40,000 signing bonus.
At 17, Faucette went to the minor leagues. "I was from a blue-collar town, and it was more money than my father made," he said. "So I took it."
He knocked around with farm teams in the low minors in Florida and South Carolina, homesick and sitting on the bench. "Some of the motels I wouldn't even take a shower in," he said.
His last stop was with Medicine Hat, in Alberta, Canada. He spent a miserable few months living in a small hotel and taking 14-hour rides on rattletrap buses in freezing weather. He bought his hat on a trip to Montana, and bought a pair of boots for the rodeo, the only event in town. He spent most of his time hugging a tape deck to his ear, blasting heavy metal to relieve the boredom.
"Medicine Hat was about as big as this campus," he said. "The only music was country. There were mountain lions, mooses. All the girls rode motorcycles. It was sick. That's when I turned into a rock freak. All I did was listen to my heavy-rock tapes on those bus rides. It was a hard life for a kid."
In the winter of 1981, Faucette got fed up. By this time, he was well into heavy metal, favoring bands such as AC-DC and Van Halen. "I said, 'I can't deal, man.' "
He started inquiring into colleges, and the first to call back was Maryland's first-year head coach, Bobby Ross. But his start with the Terrapins was not auspicious. He was continually beat up in spring practice as he relearned football ("the worst spring of my life"). Ross tolerated his appearance and odd manners, but hesitantly.
Faucette improved dramatically that fall to become a starter. Off the field, however, he was in danger of becoming a problem. He hung out with upperclassmen and frequented the Rendezvous, a local bar. "We terrorized the 'Vous," he said. By the end of his sophomore year, it was commonly thought that, although he was a dominating presence on the field, perhaps something should be done about Faucette's social graces.
"If Chuck had had the wrong guidance, he could have ended up who knows where," Costello said. "Coaches like crazy men to a certain extent, but they have to be socially acceptable, too. He got the guidance to keep those characteristics for when he needed them, but to be civilized otherwise. He listened."
Guidance came in the form of Ross and Foussekis. Ross spoke calmly, but Foussekis engaged in several pitched battles with him. "We had a number of misunderstandings," Foussekis said. But the end result was that Faucette decided to turn over a new leaf. There was also a possible career in the NFL to think about and a romantic involvement with Carolyn Cassanese, a former Maryland student to whom he is now engaged.
"There's an element to Chuck's personality that you like as football coach, because he plays the game with real abandon," Ross said. "But I told him he didn't want to be known as a character. He wanted to be known for his character, not as the guy with the funny hat."
The change carried onto the field, where Faucette's teammates and coaches agree that he is a markedly different and improved player. As a freshman and sophomore, he was sometimes an uncontrollable presence, whose emotion overcame his judgment. When Maryland made its famous rally from 31 points down to beat Miami, 42-40, two years ago, for example, Faucette fainted on the sideline.
"Chuck has a lot more responsibilities," Ross said. "He has to make a lot of the calls. You can't do that when you're incensed."
What is perhaps most indicative of the change in Faucette is that he is by all accounts an exemplary team captain. It turns out the man with the diamond stud and the war-yell haircut is good with freshman players, and gives inspired locker-room speeches. On the occasions when he still needs to be reined in, there is co-captain Mesner.
"He's not nearly as flamboyant," Mesner said. "In the past, he was so hyper it carried onto the field. You still have to let him fly off the handle once in a while. It's my job to pull him back in. Every so often you just have to kick him and tell him to shut up."