Youngest Terps are 1st to play around

21 recruits begin practice today, ahead of veterans

`opportunity' to be seized

August 06, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - At LaPlata Hall yesterday on the University of Maryland campus, you could have your cake and eat it, too.

If you were a football player, opportunity - opportunity without patience - beckoned as 21 new recruits reported for football practices scheduled to begin this morning.

This was especially true for those on the front lines of both offense and defense as well as linebacker. They will compete with the upperclassmen, who report to campus later this week before the full squad begins practicing Saturday.

"That was part of the reason for coming here," said linebacker D'Qwell Jackson of Largo, Fla. He could contribute, as could fellow linebacker Reggie Holmes of Bowie and, to a greater extent, Shawne Merriman of Upper Marlboro. "You want to have an opportunity to play."

College programs have expected more out of younger players in recent years. And at Maryland, a program coming off a 10-2 season, concerns about depth revolve less around starters - 16 from last year's Orange Bowl team return - and more around reserves.

At linebacker, for instance, the Terrapins lack a player capable of replacing E.J. Henderson as ably as Leon Joe did when Marlon Moye-Moore was suspended last year. The offensive and defensive lines find themselves short four players dismissed for academic reasons.

That said, coach Ralph Friedgen is hoping that some of the new players can help out, despite some misgivings. "Our depth should be better, because we have 20-something kids coming in," he said. "But any time you rely on 18-year-old kids ... you like freshmen to seek their own level."

The player most likely to answer Maryland's hopes in this regard is Merriman, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound pass rusher from Frederick Douglass who looks like he could step right into Mike Whaley's spot and has performed like it during summer workouts, according to those who have observed him in the last month.

Merriman, who was the program's first signee of the 2002 class 16 months ago, said he has been preparing for Maryland since that moment.

"I've been competing with myself for [a starting position] since my junior year," he said. "It's real important, because that's why I came here. I had to work hard to prove that I can play here."

NOTES: Randy Earle, another pass-rusher, spent much of yesterday with a crew from ESPN. The network plans to run a piece detailing the loss of both of his parents and both of his two siblings to AIDS during his childhood. HBO's sports news magazine, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, has a similar piece in the works on North Massapequa, N.Y., native. ... From now until at least Sunday, Maryland will have the use of only two of its three practice fields while workers attempt to re-sod a grass field (normally used for defense) to the north of the turf field. That field was to have been done on Saturday, according to football operations director Tom Deahn, but "it did not grow in as we'd hoped, for unknown reasons." ... On other fronts, most of the coaching staff has moved back into the Gossett Team House, after more than two months of working out of trailers while their offices were redone. The offices, along with a new academic services center on the upper floor (expected to be finished in November), are the first phase of renovation that will include a dining hall and auditorium. The first phase cost $3.1 million. The total cost won't be known until later this month, but $7 million and $8 million are the figures most often batted around; that doesn't mention a possible replacement of the practice fields (due in 2004) at a cost of $4.3 million.

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