Terps' Wilson trying to turn corner

Friedgen has praise, tells him bad days `come with territory'

College Football

November 01, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - In time, Dennard Wilson will be OK. Perhaps he is already.

That's the prognosis from teammates and coaches for the sophomore cornerback for Maryland, who was in the eye of the storm during his team's 52-31 loss Saturday at Florida State.

In the third career start for Wilson, he had a rough time as the primary cover man on several of the five touchdown passes thrown by quarterback Chris Rix.

Wilson played well in Maryland's other high-profile game this season, starting and then switching off with Curome Cox in the 20-17 overtime win over Georgia Tech on Oct. 11. But with Tony Okanlawon out of the lineup against Florida State, the spotlight was on him as it hadn't been before.

It's likely Wilson will start again Saturday against visiting Troy State (4-3) for the No. 15 Terps (7-1), as Okanlawon is still suffering from an undisclosed illness.

Coach Ralph Friedgen said he is confident Wilson will be able to bounce back from his bad day and shine in his team's remaining games.

"There's a lot to this kid," Friedgen said. "You aren't going to see any of our coaches getting down on him."

Wilson, who has declined interview requests, came to Maryland in 2000 from DeMatha High School in Hyattsville and played in six games as a backup before a knee injury finished him for the season.

He rebounded during the spring session, shooting up to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Cox. By the early part of this season, he was splitting time with Cox at one of the corner spots and earning regular praise.

"He's a lot more physical and he already has good speed, so he can run with receivers," senior safety Tony Jackson said. "He's worked hard and he's developing. That's all you can ask."

Jackson said tough and public breaks are part of the life of any defensive back - cornerbacks, in particular. "You better have a short memory," he said.

Part of Wilson's difficulty on Saturday, roommate and starting rush linebacker Mike Whaley said, was a result of where he was playing. Whaley said Wilson was playing the "field corner" position, with more territory to cover than the "boundary corner," who covers the short side of the field.

Wilson, according to Whaley, had never played that side of the field.

"Dennard's a great DB, but he's never been in that position before," Whaley said.

Despite the swagger expected from defensive backs, Friedgen said Wilson revealed a certain amount of angst about what happened against Florida State.

Wilson wondered if it could get any worse.

"I said to him: `Dennard, it comes with the territory. ... You're going to face worse things in life,'" Friedgen said. `You went up against a very good wide receiver and a hot quarterback.'

"I think the world of Dennard Wilson. I think he's a competitor and I think he's going to be a very fine football player."

On Sunday, Wilson wouldn't talk about it, according to Whaley. But by Monday night, the cornerback's spirits had lightened enough to watch football and to accept that the loss was a team effort.

"We made mistakes as a team - it wasn't just one person," Whaley said. "If we'd been able to get to the quarterback, he wouldn't have been able to be as consistent."

Before watching "Monday Night Football," Wilson was challenged constantly in that evening's practice. Maryland's quarterbacks threw at him on deep routes, and he successfully defended each pass.

However, junior college transfer Jamal Chance will likely get some time at corner this week. Friedgen is also considering playing Dominique Foxworth (Western Tech), and Wilson might play on the shorter side of the field this time.

"I think it will help Dennard; if nothing else, psychologically," Friedgen said. "He'll be fine."

NOTES: Left guard Todd Wike returned to practice yesterday, and will probably play this weekend after suffering a concussion against Florida State. ... Whaley is questionable after suffering a nerve injury during Tuesday's practice.

Next for Maryland

Opponent: Troy State (4-3)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Comcast pay-per-view/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 23

ACC bowl picture

Maryland, Florida State and North Carolina, each with one conference loss, are the front-runners for the ACC title. A look at the race:

ACC bowl tie-ins

Champion: BCS bowl (Sugar, Fiesta, Orange or Rose). Sugar and Fiesta are Jan. 1, Orange Jan. 2, Rose Jan. 3. The top two teams in the BCS standings go to the Rose Bowl. The Orange Bowl gets first shot at the ACC titlist.

Second place: Gator Bowl vs. first available Big East team or Notre Dame, Jan. 1.

Third place: Peach Bowl vs. second available SEC team, Dec. 31.

Fourth place: Seattle Bowl vs. third available Pac-10 team, Dec. 28.

Fifth place: Tangerine Bowl vs. fourth available Big East team, Dec. 20.

Note: The Peach and Gator bowls may swap, as may the Seattle and Tangerine. ACC tiebreakers

Two-way tie: Winner of head-to-head meeting unless winner is ranked more than five places below the other team.

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