Young Terps are fresh out of ways to succeed ... but only for while

Bill Tanton

September 07, 1993|By Bill Tanton

COLLEGE PARK -- Before a recent Penn State-Maryland football game I went to State College to interview Joe Paterno. The lasting memory of the visit is of a player who didn't even suit up against Maryland.

As I waited outside Paterno's office, the young man came out and went on his way.

"He didn't look too happy," I said to Paterno.

"He just heard something he didn't want to hear," the coach said. "He's a good kid but he didn't have the best academic background in high school.

"I just told him to take the rest of the season off to work with our academic support people. Naturally he'd rather be playing football."

"That's unselfish of you," I said, "to deprive yourself of a player so he can spend the time on his studies."

"It's not as unselfish as you think," Paterno said. "That kid is a freshman. You don't win with freshmen. You win with juniors and seniors.

"If this kid doesn't put in extra time on the books now, he might never be a junior or senior."

That lesson helps explain why Paterno has lasted 27 years at Penn State.

It also helps explain why the present Maryland football team was beaten, 43-29, in its opener against Virginia, and why the Terps don't figure to do any better this Saturday at North Carolina.

Maryland is too young to succeed with a schedule that includes five of the top 21 teams in the nation.

When Maryland won its last Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 1985, its team was loaded with fifth-year seniors. Their experience made a huge difference.

Against Virginia, coach Mark Duffner started eight true freshmen and nine redshirt freshmen, plus two junior-college transfers.

You don't win with that many inexperienced players, no matter how talented they are.

It's not as bad as some, such as Maryland defensive coordinator Larry Slade, would have us believe.

"You've got young people," Slade said after the Virginia game, "who you're trying to teach how to line up and how to play football."

Teach them how to line up? Come on!

Maryland's players are young; they are not babes in the woods.

A redshirt freshman is someone who practiced with the team all of last year and went through spring football practice. By now he should know how to line up.

Even a true freshman -- one who just arrived on campus last month to begin two-a-day practices -- generally has played several years in a high-powered high school program.

Duffner is not one to moan about his team's lack of experience.

"Hey, I'm excited about what this group is doing," he said at his weekly news conference yesterday. "These kids are only going to get better."

Besides, it's quite possible for a college team to win with a freshman. Five of the top 12 teams in this week's Associated Press poll started new quarterbacks in their openers.

Virginia's QB, Symmion Willis, was making his first collegiate start. No one is concerned over his lack of experience after he directed the Cavaliers to 473 yards total offense and completed 15 of 23 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns.

The difference is that Willis is not surrounded by so many young players. His coach, George Welsh, is in his 11th year at Virginia. He's not trying to turn a program around, as Duffner is in his second year here.

Welsh is as smart as they come. He knows how to take advantage of a team that is playing too many rookies.

To make up for that, Maryland's coaches tried the psychological approach. Explained the Terps' Orlando Strozier, a redshirt freshman: "They told us not to think of ourselves as freshmen. They told us to think of ourselves as upperclassmen and we'd play like upperclassmen."

It takes more than that, obviously.

Maryland may sneak up on a couple opponents this year, but it may take until the '95 season before there's a whole lot of winning.

There may be even less reason for optimism this week. North Carolina was dynamite in beating Southen Cal, 31-9, on the coast. The Tar Heels' 44-3 win over Ohio U. was a given.

You need to look no further than this week's opponent to see what can be accomplished by the right coach.

In Mack Brown's first two years at North Carolina he went 1-10 and 1-10. Now he has a team that is 2-0, is ranked No. 14 in the country and is a 15 1/2 -point favorite over Maryland.

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