ACC's honors rain on Terps

Henderson named Player of Year, top defensive performer

Perry voted best on offense

Conference awards first for UM players since White in 1974

November 30, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Aberdeen's E.J. Henderson, the top performer on a Maryland defense that improved markedly, was named the Atlantic Coast Conference's Player of the Year yesterday.

The award is determined by a vote of the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters Association.

Henderson, a junior linebacker, also got 48 of the 69 votes for Defensive Player of the Year - beating out North Carolina's Julius Peppers. Henderson received 39 of the votes for Player of the Year, also besting Peppers.

He was joined by Terps tailback Bruce Perry, who edged Clemson's Woody Dantzler for Offensive Player of the Year, 22-21.

The pair represented the first Terrapins to win postseason player of the year awards of any kind since defensive lineman and NFL Hall of Famer Randy White won the ACC Player of the Year award in 1974.

"The fact that the league has recognized how well our players played this year is a tremendous accomplishment for our team," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who picked up Coach of the Year honors on Wednesday, giving the Terps four of the league's five individual awards.

"It's just a good feeling," said Henderson, who had 147 tackles to lead the ACC this season and said he learned of the award Wednesday night. "It showed a lot for the program, coming from where we came from."

When asked to elaborate, he simply said, "We were 5-6 [last season]." Despite logging 109 tackles last season - seventh best in the league - he barely earned honorable mention honors because of the team's record.

But he quickly gained attention this season as a player who made tackles from sideline to sideline - and behind the line of scrimmage, where a school-record 27 of his hits took place.

Thanks to a defensive system (devised by new coordinator Gary Blackney) that prizes aggressiveness, and a defensive line (led by nose tackle Charles Hill) that kept blockers occupied, Henderson roamed free for double-digit tackle totals in nine of his 11 games this season.

He acknowledged that the contributions of others were often obscured by his own success. "Especially for Chuck [Hill] - he really didn't get any honors," he said. "A lot of the plays I made were due to him."

Next week, Henderson will travel to Orlando as a finalist for the Butkus Award that goes to the nation's best linebacker. In the last two weeks, he's been named to two All-America teams, one by the Football News and another by the Football Writers Association of America.

"When you win these awards, you want to talk to the media," said Henderson, who is in the process of deciding if he'll return to College Park for his senior season or enter the NFL draft.

"It feels like high school," he said, remembering his senior year at Aberdeen, when he was named Harford County's top athlete for his efforts in both football and basketball.

Just like Henderson, Perry didn't garner much hoopla coming into this season. He had only 195 career rushing yards and was one of three tailbacks trying to replace the school's all-time rushing leader, LaMont Jordan.

Perry, a sophomore from Philadelphia, erased most doubts within the first five games, when he rushed for 821 of his league-best 1,242 yards, including a 276-yard outburst against Wake Forest on Sept. 22.

As teams began stacking the line against Perry's running, he became a threat out of the backfield, catching 25 passes in four games during one stretch toward the end of the season.

"My goal was to rush for 1,000 yards and to help the team win," said Perry, who made a key reception during Maryland's game-winning drive in the season finale against N.C. State. "Whatever I have to do, I have to do it. A complete running back has to do all things."

NOTES: In addition to White, Maryland cornerback Tony Okanlawon, who was named first-team All-ACC at cornerback despite an illness that kept him out the last three games of the year, is expected to appear at the league's awards banquet next week in Atlanta.

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