COLLEGE PARK, Md. — 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.