Uncertainty of life hits close to home for Terps

Tornado gives team new reason to pause

September 26, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - John Lennon once said that life is what happens while you're busy making other plans - like playing football, which is what Maryland's players were thinking about early Monday night when a tornado slashed into the area near Byrd Stadium.

It hit the College Park area at about 5:30, about the same time players were making their way from a dining hall to the Gossett Team House to meet with their coaches.

Two students at the school were killed.

And for the second time in three weeks - the first after the terrorist attacks - Ralph Friedgen's team has the challenge of maintaining focus through times scary and unprecedented.

In the days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Maryland practiced twice, though its game against West Virginia was postponed until this weekend. On Monday, after the tornado had struck, the team decided not to go through a light practice despite assurances that the worst of the weather had passed.

"That was a little different. That was right here," said fullback Chad Killian, who remembered walking through the storm with linebacker Ryan Swift on the way to practice. "We saw metal doors flying off the top of the [student] union. We stepped back and we were like, `Wow!' "

Once Killian and Swift reached the team house, they realized the magnitude of the storm, which had left 3,000 of their fellow students homeless.

Cornerback Curome Cox spoke of a computer lab tutor whose car was flipped over. Such thoughts weighed on his mind and on those of the 10 others on the Terrapin Council, which includes representatives from each class.

"You know a lot of people on the north side [of campus], and your heart goes out to them, because they were put in a situation where they had to be evacuated from their homes," Cox said. "You kind of questioned where your focus was at. ... There were a lot of people worried about other people's safety and worried about their own safety."

With the Terps' indoor practice bubble already blown off onto the golf course, the council met with Friedgen, who had a promising weather report. But Friedgen said he went with the players' instincts on the matter.

Instead, the team looked at film Monday night, with the expectation of a tough practice yesterday.

"I have a lot of trust in [the players]," Friedgen said. "But I'll be disappointed in them if they don't go out and practice hard today because they know how important this game is."

One player accustomed to tornadoes is quarterback Shaun Hill, whose hometown of Parsons, Kan., was hit by a twister months after he came east in spring 2000.

But he didn't anticipate the severity of Monday night's storm, despite the warnings, because, "You don't hear about those much out here. Where I'm from, you have tornado warnings every other week."

Hill said the events are difficult to bounce back from in the context of football.

"Over the last three weeks, everything around us has changed," he said. "It's harder to keep your focus, but it's something we have to do."

Despite its disrupted routine two weeks ago - with no walk-through Sept. 14 and no game Sept. 15 - Maryland managed a 27-20 road win at Wake Forest.

The Terps also have the luxury of playing against a team, West Virginia, that they prepared for two weeks ago.

"I think we're mentally prepared. We just have to go out there and do it," linebacker Mike Whaley said. "We just put the pieces together and we should be in good shape on Saturday."

NOTES: Tailback Bruce Perry, nursing a sore hamstring, practiced yesterday, as did receiver Jafar Williams, who has a thigh bruise. ... As anticipated, Maryland announced its intention to tighten security for Saturday's game with the focus on backpacks, which will not be allowed. The security force will number somewhere around 250. The school also plans to have a moment of silence for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. ... Kickoff time for the Oct. 6 Virginia game will be noon, and the game will be televised on the Jefferson-Pilot network.

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