COLLEGE PARK -- There's a new fashion trend on the Maryland football team this year, and it originated on the right wrist of wide receiver Latrez Harrison.
It's a plain white plastic wristband, with a single word engraved in the side: RESPECT.
"I got this because I don't think opposing teams or players really respect us," Harrison said. "We don't think people are giving us the respect we deserve. We won 10 games in 2001, and people said it was a fluke. Then last year, they said we didn't beat anybody. The media has us picked third or fourth in the league, and there just isn't the respect there."
Or, as Aretha Franklin would say, it's about time people started giving Maryland its propers.
"Me and [receiver] Jo Jo Walker were the first ones to get them, but most of our whole team is wearing these things now," Harrison said. "We don't care, we've just got to go out and prove ourselves again. That's a good thing."
One might say the same of Harrison, a player who represents one of the biggest unknowns for the Terps as they prepare to open their season Thursday against Northern Illinois. If he can perform up to his potential and give Maryland another dynamic offensive threat, the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference had better look out.
"We're expecting big things from him," said receivers coach James Franklin.
A gifted athlete with speed and size -- Harrison is 6 feet 3, 225 pounds -- he was supposed to be the Terps' quarterback of the future when he arrived in College Park in 1999. His senior year at Booker T. Washington High in Atlanta, he passed for 2,400 yards and 27 touchdowns, and was considered one of the nation's top-rated high school quarterbacks.
As a freshman at Maryland, speculation existed that he would compete for the starting job right away, and late in the season he made his first career start against eventual national champion Florida State in Tallahassee in front of more than 80,000 people.
That was about as good as it would get for Harrison as a quarterback.
He could look brilliant one throw, then ugly the next, and even after redshirting in 2000, he couldn't overtake Calvin McCall or Shaun Hill to win the starting job for good. When coach Ralph Friedgen replaced Ron Vanderlinden in 2001, Harrison had to learn a whole new offense, and would often stay up as late as 4 a.m. studying his playbook. Though he backed up Hill during Maryland's Cinderella run to the Orange Bowl, he spent most of his time watching, not playing.
"It didn't make any sense for me to have one of the better athletes on the team standing next to me on the sidelines," Friedgen said. "I called Latrez in before we were going to the Orange Bowl, and I said, `You've got to do really good in preparation for this bowl game, because if you're not going to be the starting quarterback next year, it doesn't make good sense to keep you there.'
"Well, we came back in the winter, we had a team meeting, and afterward he went to the wide receiver meeting. That was an indication to me I should consider changing him."
Said Harrison, "I was more excited than anything, because I really wasn't becoming the player that I knew I could. I probably would have been the fastest receiver at the time. Catching the ball just was something that came naturally to me."
No doubt he could catch and he was certainly fast, and as a former quarterback he knew where to go, but in everything else, he was raw. Harrison caught 20 passes for 369 yards in 2002, including a 69-yard touchdown against Duke, but his form was far from perfect.
"Last year, he was probably just a big athlete running around," Franklin said. "He was such a physical presence, but he didn't really know the techniques or anything."
That changed this summer, when Harrison spent the better part of three months refining his route-running and his releases off the line.
"I had to kind of learn on the run last year, but I'm way ahead this year," Harrison said. "I know I'm going to be more of a threat than I was last year."
With his size and speed, Harrison creates a mismatch nearly every time he lines up. Now it's just a matter of putting it all together.
"I think Latrez has worked extremely hard," said Friedgen, who added he hasn't ruled out sticking Harrison at quarterback occasionally just to mix things up. "I think he's turned into one of the leaders of our team. He's going to be a big guy to go to in our offense. "
Opponent: Northern Illinois
When: Thursday, 7:35 p.m.
Where: Huskie Stadium, DeKalb, Ill.
TV/Radio: CN8/WBAL (1090 AM)