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The Political Gridiron: U. Maryland Quarterback Duo Stand On Opposing Sides Of Election

This story was written by Greg Schimmel, The Diamondback

The competition between Terrapin quarterbacks Chris Turner and Jordan Steffy is heating up midseason, even with Turner firmly cemented in the starting job.

Turner is a Democrat who supports Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), and Steffy is a Republican who supports Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The two signal-callers frequently trade barbs during practice, becoming the most well-known debaters on a team where politics is a regular discussion topic in the locker room.

"We talk about the oddest things in the locker room," Turner said. "Politics is probably one of the biggest."

Turner, a University of Maryland fourth-year government and politics major, can deftly analyze Obama's and McCain's different campaign strategies, and he said he already sent his absentee ballot back to his native California.

While he says he doesn't support celebrity endorsements of candidates, Turner likes to wear the Obama T-shirt he bought at the Democratic candidate's February rally at Comcast Center, even if it doesn't fit him all that well.

"I follow [politics] about as closely as anyone would want to follow it," Turner said. "At this point in the election, it's just a lot of the same things over and over again."

But while many of Turner's teammates take turns testing his political knowledge and arguing their own opinions, the Terps say they don't let politics get in the way of team unity.

"Guys talk about it a lot," defensive tackle Olugbemi Otulaja said. "But you don't want it to be anything that divides the team."

When things do get heated, Dean Muhtadi is often one of the major instigators.

Several Terps said they thought the defensive tackle was a McCain supporter, but Muhtadi said he is still undecided, and whether he votes for McCain or Obama on Tuesday is likely going to be an "Election Day decision."

Muhtadi gives a right-leaning impression because he said he likes to make inflammatory comments to the most passionate Obama supporters - such as Turner and defensive end Jared Harrell - and then walk away and sit back as the arguments begin.

"I just like to make sure that people can defend who they're voting for," Muhtadi said. "I want to make sure that people are voting because of the issues."

The Terps said the economy is the most important issue to many of them, and in that regard, many of them favor Obama's policies. Otulaja said he thought that if it were an NFL locker room, the suddenly wealthy players might be more likely to vote for McCain.

With many not registered to vote on the campus, several Terps said they planned to vote Tuesday in a variety of different ways.

Muhtadi said he would drive home to Alexandria, Va., Tuesday morning to make his final decision and cast his ballot.

Otulaja said he is registered to vote in College Park and will use the voting booths at the Stamp Student Union Tuesday to vote for Obama, while Harrell said he has already sent in his absentee ballot with an Obama vote to his hometown of Milton, Mass.

"If I had to guess, I'd say about 60 percent of the team is planning to vote," Muhtadi said.

Players said members of the coaching staff usually stay out of the political discussions, and head coach Ralph Friedgen would not specifically say last week who he was going to vote for Tuesday.

Friedgen said he gets the impression that most of his players are interested in the election, and he doesn't seem to mind a little healthy debate.

Friedgen offered a hint into his politics when he said he jokingly called Canadian-born defensive back Michael Carter a Socialist - which Carter later isisted he is not - when the sophomore tried to convince Friedgen about the merits of Obama's health care program.

"I guess if Obama gets elected, I can retire and still buy my own health care," Friedgen said skeptically.

So while there are several opinionated potential politicians in the Terps' locker room, their discussions remain civil, and their focus remains on football.

"It's friendly," Turner said. "It's just healthy political dialogue."

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