Shunned, Perry and Hill now shine

October 07, 2001|By Mike Preston

COLLEGE PARK - Maryland running back Bruce Perry and quarterback Shaun Hill were players whom virtually no one else really wanted. They were too small, too slow, too short, too something ...

But they have found a home on Maryland's campus, and they have led the Terps to first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Perry rushed for 143 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and Hill passed for 237 yards and two touchdowns, as Maryland routed Virginia, 41-21, yesterday before 44,197 at Byrd Stadium.

Maryland is 5-0 under first-year coach Ralph Friedgen, its best start since 1978. In years past, it might have been a bit premature to mention the b-word (bowl) in College Park during October, but this team isn't going to cave in.

Friedgen isn't "Rah Rah" Ron Vanderlinden, and the Terps don't have any prima donnas. They have a strong, blue-collar work ethic and a bunch of overachievers driven by a tough-guy coach.

And maybe no other players exemplify this more than Hill and Perry, two not-ready-for-prime-time players who have the Terps on the brink of Prime Time.

"It was quite an adjustment getting used to him," Perry said of Friedgen. "He'll be watching practice and if he doesn't like what he sees, the next thing you realize is he is in the huddle or in your face. So I figure if he is a tough guy, then I'm going to be tough right along with him."

No one had ever accused Perry of being a tough guy. Coming out of George Washington High in Philadelphia, the only major college that wanted him as a running back was West Virginia. Florida and some other schools wanted to make him a defensive back.

At 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds, Perry was considered too small and not tough enough.

Maryland liked him, and he impressed Friedgen initially during spring practice. But Perry had a problem. He ran east and west instead of north and south. He had more moves than Gale Sayers, but the only person he ever faked out was himself.

"Bruce is a guy I didn't make very happy in spring practice," Friedgen said. "I had heard he was a great running back. When I first saw him, he made about a thousand moves on nobody. He didn't go anywhere. I was on his case. In about the third week of spring practice, he started hitting it up there. I have seen that improvement every week.

"He just had to learn how to run," Friedgen said. "What happens is that kids in high school can make kids miss and they get some long runs. In college, the game is a little faster. While the guy is making moves in the air, the posse is gaining on you."

Not anymore.

Perry, now a 190-pound sophomore, has rushed for more than 100 yards in each game this year. A 45-yard run on an option pitch around left end set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Hill with 13:26 left in the second quarter.

The 6-yard touchdown run with 9:16 left in the game that put Maryland ahead 38-21 was a beauty, as Perry ran over tacklers and took some into the end zone from the 2-yard line. The Terps use him well, putting him deep in the backfield and allowing him to look over the entire defense, much like Southern California used to do with its old tailbacks.

Perry has speed and power, but he also has great vision. He has the ability to float or hide behind blockers before making a cut and accelerating.

And now he is being used in other ways. Perry also had eight receptions for 51 yards yesterday.

"You get him into space, he can make other people miss," Friedgen said.

As for toughness, that's no longer an issue. With 10:26 left in the second quarter, Perry was cheap-shotted by Virginia safety Jerton Evans along the sideline. Perry missed only two plays. A year ago, he may have taken the rest of the afternoon off.

Hill's problem never was toughness, but sheer arm strength. Only two Division II schools wanted him as a quarterback coming out of Parsons (Kan.) High. Hill ended up going to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas before signing with Maryland.

Back in the 1980s, Hill would not have made the roster at Maryland, with quarterbacks such as Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich, Stan Gelbaugh and Neil O'Donnell, but Friedgen is getting good mileage out of him.

Hill isn't pretty back there.

There are moments when you shake your head in disbelief. On his second pass of the game, Hill underthrew fullback James Lynch in the right flat and was intercepted by cornerback Jamaine Winborne. His next pass was batted down and almost intercepted by Evans in the end zone for a touchdown with 11:07 left in the first quarter. On his third pass, he overthrew Perry in the left flat.

Hill sometimes holds onto the ball too long. He seems to run the option in slow motion. But he's good at play-action fakes, and he makes big plays.

Several times yesterday, Hill scrambled and completed passes for first downs under duress. He showed nice touch on the 53-yard touchdown pass he lofted to receiver Guilian Gary while rolling to his left with 1:51 remaining in the half.

Then, with 13:26 left in the game, Hill threw a 5-yard dart to receiver Jafar Williams for a touchdown that put Maryland ahead 31-21.

"Shaun was real tight to start the game," Friedgen said. "But as the game went on, he started seeing some things, making adjustments. I still think he is in the developmental stage. For us to really achieve, I think Shaun has to come on in the last six weeks. I don't know how much better Bruce can get."

Either way, the Terps still are coming out winners. Not many other major college scouts or coaches gave Hill or Perry much of a chance when they came out of high school.

The Terps did, and so did Friedgen. All they have done is lead Maryland to the top of the ACC.

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