A YEAR AGO, University of Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen was just trying to build some confidence that might one day put the program in the hunt for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
That day came in 2001 as Maryland won its first ACC title outright since 1985 and Friedgen won conference and national Coach of the Year honors in his first season. Friedgen's message is different in 2002: Aim high, but stay low.
"Every year is different," Friedgen said. "Last year there were no high expectations, and this year there are some. That's the way it should be. I've been preaching to our guys about being the hunted. We're no longer the hunters. I've told them they have to be ready to play all the time.
"How will they react? I don't know. They've never been in this position before. We'll soon find out."
The season can't open soon enough for Friedgen. Since the Orange Bowl loss to Florida in January, he has taken off about 10 days. It's either recruiting, public appearances or camps. But if Friedgen wants to fulfill his goal of winning a national championship, he has to be on the field.
Friedgen is realistic. Another miracle season of 10-2 and a major bowl bid is highly unlikely. The Terps don't have a bona fide replacement for last year's quarterback, Shaun Hill, and their best defensive player is still bothered by a back injury. Only five starters return from last year's defense.
But the positive signs outweigh the negative ones. The most noticeable has been in recruiting.
"We're getting to see more national recruits as opposed to this time last year," Friedgen said. "Last summer, the outstanding players were already set with their visits. We're going to get some of these guys on our campus. That's why we've got to move into the second and third phases of improving our facilities. We need to strike when the iron is hot.
"These guys are going to be looking at top 10 schools, and those programs are certainly going to have top facilities. We're getting there. Season-ticket sales are up, Terrapin Club membership is up, but we need big chunks. The other day someone donated $28 million to Virginia. Georgia Tech has $100 million in donations. I'm looking for one for $1 million. I know they're out there."
Friedgen has put his money where his mouth is and is throwing his weight around on campus. He made a deal with two supporters to drop weight if they contributed $1,000 for each pound. As of Friday morning, Friedgen had the six pack working. Well, it's more of a keg, but he has shrunk by 33 pounds.
"My goal is to lose 100 pounds, and that gets me $100,000," Friedgen said. "This diet has started to take on a life of its own. You wouldn't believe the e-mail that I have received from trainers and physicians."
Friedgen has to look ahead because the present isn't great. He has joined the Ravens and Orioles as far as building for the future. But Friedgen gets excited when he talks about quarterback Chris Kelley, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on April 27 in spring practice.
Initially, it was thought Kelley would miss all of the coming season. But he might not miss a game. He has been throwing and working out without a limp.
"Unbelievable progress," Friedgen said. "He said he wanted to go rehab in Silver Spring because that's where he was when he injured his other knee. We gave him the go-ahead, as long as he was comfortable. I went over there to watch him once, and he is working out four hours a day, doing work on an underwater treadmill. We have to be careful not to push him, but we're optimistic. His doctors, one of which did the surgery, have given him the green light.
"I have a lot of respect for this kid," Friedgen said. "When he got hurt again, he could have sulked, but he didn't. Instead, he just went back to work."
If Kelley can't compete in training camp, Friedgen will have to make a quick decision on Orlando Evans or Scott McBrien as his quarterback. Neither has played much, but Friedgen would like to name a starter and get him as many repetitions as possible with the starting unit before the season.
If the Terps can find a quarterback, they'll be OK with eight starters returning on offense. Defensively, there are a lot of holes to fill, including one in the middle. Linebacker E.J. Henderson, one of the best in the country, hasn't fully recovered from off-season back surgery.
"He's about 70 percent, and hopefully he'll be ready when the season opens," said Friedgen, whose team opens against Notre Dame on Aug. 31. "We've got a lot of holes to fill yet in this program, but if we didn't have those holes, I wouldn't be here. We just have to go back to work and see where we're at."
The Terps will know by late November. That's the key stretch in the schedule when they play three of four games on the road against North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia.
"Earlier in the season, hopefully, we can use that period for our guys to grow up so we won't be rookies when we get to that point," Friedgen said. "We've improved, but we still got a ways to go."