For Terps' seniors, reflection hurts 20 will play final game at Byrd today, wondering where bright hopes went

November 01, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- They lived through the Great Quarterback Controversy of 1995 and the firing of Mark Duffner and his staff in '96. Half of them started their college careers when Maryland ++ had the worst defense in NCAA history, and they'll close them with what has been the program's least-productive offense in decades.

Ron Vanderlinden said he'll hang a photo of them in the Terps' football house as long as he's the coach, but now that another losing season is a certainty, there are on-line missives from faceless fans who want them cast aside.

If you think college football is all fun and free meals, talk to a Maryland senior.

"It's kind of like we've been victims of circumstances the last couple of years," said Eric Hicks, a captain and defensive end.

Hicks is one of 20 Maryland seniors who will play their final game at Byrd Stadium today (noon), when the Terps close out the home portion of another disappointing season against Virginia.

The 20 include a couple of walk-ons and five junior college transfers. Hicks is one of the four who entered in 1994 and will complete their eligibility in four years. Quarterback Brian Cummings and nine others go back to 1993, when the Terps went 2-9, and that's exactly where they'll finish if they are unable to upset Virginia, N.C. State or Georgia Tech.

Darryl Gilliam offers a unique perspective.

He's the left tackle on a unit that has been unable to mount much offense, as the Terps have averaged 261.8 yards, 109th among the nation's 112 major-college teams. Maryland has put as many as six freshmen on the field at the same time, but the defense was even greener in 1993, when it allowed an NCAA-record 553 yards per game.

Gilliam was one of the rookies pressed into action at defensive tackle four years ago. He was moved to offense in 1994, red-shirted and has attempted to adjust to the run-and-shoot, Dan Dorazio's version of a multiple offense and now Craig Johnson's.

Gilliam, Cummings, tailback Buddy Rodgers and right tackle Pat Ward started 4-0 as sophomores, but their team has gone 9-17 since.

"We were on top of the world," Gilliam said. "Everyone thought we were going to win that season, and keep on winning the next two years. The older guys told us we were going to go to three bowl games."

Cummings lost his starting position when Scott Milanovich returned from a gambling suspension, Maryland lost its momentum and Duffner eventually lost his job as coach.

"The young guys we have now, I can't foresee them having to deal with any of the [stuff] we did," Gilliam said. "People leaving, coaches getting fired, 11 freshmen playing defense in the same game."

Gilliam has a team-high 30 straight starts, but offensive line coach Steve Greatwood wasn't happy with his play last week, and red-shirt junior Ryan Rezzelle might start, instead.

That would please those fans who want Vanderlinden to write off the last three games and audition younger players.

"I can understand why people feel that way," Gilliam said, "but the older guys have busted their butt for four or five years. We've been through a lot of hardship."

Ask defensive tackle Johnnie Hicks, another survivor of 1993's youth movement. Hicks was listed on some ACC preseason all-star teams, but he missed more than two weeks in August with nerve damage in his neck and a chipped wrist bone limited his time in the win over Temple. He's since played with a small cast.

"Nobody knows what we've been through out there," Hicks said. "The last five years have been real rough. There have been ups, downs, peeking around corners. Unfortunately, I won't be around to see what's around the next corner."

Pub Date: 11/01/97

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