Schedule is not on Maryland's side, but fortunately Duffner is

Bill Tanton

August 12, 1993|By Bill Tanton

COLLEGE PARK -- As the veterans reported today to prepare for a new season of Maryland football, the stage was set for winning.

The Byrd Stadium grass was green and inviting. A $20 million refurbishing had the stadium looking better than ever.

The 46,000-square-foot, $7 million football team complex was resplendent. The 35,000 pounds of workout machinery was further proof that Maryland has delivered the finest possible football facilities.

But as a visitor drives along University Boulevard and turns into the campus, a roadside sign hits him over the head with the reality of it all.

It advertises the Terps' home schedule: Virginia, West Virginia, Penn State, Duke and Florida State.

The away schedule: North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina State and Wake Forest.

Florida State is the preseason pick to win the national championship. Penn State, N.C. State and Carolina are in the top 20. In the top 30, include Clemson and Georgia Tech.

Maryland, despite the progress in its first year under coach Mark Duffner, is coming off a 3-8 season and is picked by no one to do much of anything.

Inside Byrd Stadium, under a midday August sun, the husky Duffner is running around the track. Naturally. One of the coach's many inspirational mottoes is: "No one walks but the mailman."

Running alongside Duffner is his new administrative assistant, Bruce Warwick, who was Syracuse's AA last year. As the two men jog, they discuss plans. Got to make use of every possible minute, you know.

After his run, Duffner sits on a bench, towels off and talks about the schedule and the season that opens here in three weeks against Virginia.

"The schedule," he said, "we can't do anything about. Our No. 1 concern is the first game with Virginia. We want to be the best prepared team we can possibly be on Sept. 4. We know Virginia will be ready."

To be sure, Maryland will not be ill-prepared. Duffner and his highly energized staff are too hard-working and too thorough for that.

But there is the matter of experience. That's something the Terps will have to overcome this year.

"I'd say our pool of players has more athleticism than the players we had a year ago," Duffner said.

"But we graduated 28 seniors. That's a lot of experience. On this team we have 10 seniors. We have a lot of young men who are going to be fine football players in time. But Virginia has nine starters back on defense alone."

No one worries about Maryland's ability to move the ball, even against a senior defense like Virginia's.

Even in his first year putting in the run-and-shoot offense at Maryland, Duffner saw his team set or tie 35 school and ACC offensive records -- and do it with a senior quarterback, John Kaleo, who had never been a starter. This year the QB is sophomore Scott Milanovich. Duffner feels good about him.

"We felt good about him last year," Duffner said. "Scott and Kaleo were even going into the final week of the preseason. It was only then that we decided to go with Kaleo."

The running game this year will be fine as long as 5-foot-8, 191-pound senior Mark Mason is healthy.

As a freshman, Mason didn't play until he exploded in the final game against Virginia. As a sophomore and junior, Mason suffered injuries and was lost to the team for the season. Both years, he was leading the ACC in total offensive yardage when he got hurt. But he's healthy now.

Winning and losing, with Duffner's teams, go beyond having a good quarterback or running back, and beyond the number of lettermen returning.

With Duffner, more than with any coach I've come across, it's almost transcendental.

He stresses intangibles such as attitude, enthusiasm, hustle and commitment. He has a 10-point team constitution that insists his players achieve on and off the field.

And it works.

Proof: he was college football's winningest coach with a 60-5-1 record at Holy Cross, which was hardly a football power before he got there.

"We're going to make it happen here," Duffner said. "We're going to bring back the good old days of Maryland football."

His positive attitude is infectious. If it were not, his team last year could not have done what it did in its final game, when no one thought it had a chance to beat Clemson. The Terps crushed Clemson, 53-23.

"Winning that game was gigantic for us," Duffner said. "It provided the impetus for the momentum we're building on now."

Everyone seems to believe Maryland will win with Duffner. But those who have taken a hard look at the schedule doubt it will happen this year. A 6-5 record would be a great achievement.

But you look at last year's Clemson game and the fact that Maryland was in a position where it might have won five of the games it lost, and you know one thing:

You can't sell short Mark Duffner or his Maryland program. Don't be surprised at anything that happens around here.

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