Terps' Ambush enjoys being big hit

Fumble-inducing tackle puts senior in spotlight

College Football

November 27, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- When Leroy Ambush awakes each morning, bleary-eyed and reluctant to drag himself to class, he rolls out of bed, boots up his computer, and watches the wicked hit he put on North Carolina State running back T.A. McLendon.

"It makes it pretty easy to get motivated to go to class," Ambush said.

Ambush isn't the only one whose mornings are brighter from watching the hit, which caused McLendon to fumble and allowed Maryland to come back and defeat N.C. State, 26-24, on a last-second field goal. Scores of Terps fans have downloaded the video clip of Ambush's hit, and the play has also been shown repeatedly on ESPN. Coach Ralph Friedgen went so far as to say the hit would go down as one of the great plays in Maryland history. It has certainly made Ambush's morning walk across campus an exciting affair.

"[Monday], people I've never seen before were coming up to me and congratulating me," Ambush said. "After the game, I probably had like 20 missed calls on my cell phone."

Some of the most heartfelt thanks came from Nick Novak, who had just missed an extra point minutes before that left the Terps trailing 24-23. When Maryland recovered the fumble with 1:46 remaining, Novak got a shot at redemption, and made a 43-yard field goal for the win.

"He always tells me I'm the man," Ambush said of Novak. "I felt real bad for Nick after missing that extra point. I wanted to do anything I could do to help him out. I knew if he got another chance, he'd knock it down."

Ambush, a senior, has always had a reputation for being a big hitter at Maryland, but most of his helmet-rattling licks have come during practice, and as a result, gotten little attention outside the Terps' locker room. But that changed last week. McLendon dashed through the hole and avoided defensive end Kevin Eli. In the process, he put himself directly in Ambush's path, and the 6-foot-1, 231-pound linebacker from Thomas Johnson hit him so hard, McLendon's head hit the ground before his feet did.

"Honestly, I had no clue the ball came out," Ambush said. "My intention ... was just to get him on the ground so we could line back up and play some more defense. But when I got up and saw everybody jumping around, I figured something good must have happened."

Ambush suspects he has watched the replay 25 times.

"I watch it at least three or four times a night when I go home," Ambush said. "It hasn't really sunk in yet. I've had big hits, but never one that changed the game like that."

Ambush's career, in fact, has been steady, but for the most part, quiet until now. A two-year starter, Ambush plays the "Sam" linebacker position in Maryland's defense, which requires him to line up on the same side as the tight end. It's not the flashiest position, but it isn't an easy one to fill either.

"He'll be one of the tougher guys to replace next year," Friedgen said. "I think he's one of the unsung heroes of this team. He's very consistent. It's hard to find big strong guys that can line up over the tight end that can also play in coverage."

Ambush, who is seventh on the team in tackles with 44, doesn't mind that the focus and attention is often elsewhere.

"Everybody has a role on the team," he said. "I might not be the person in there making all the tackles, scoring all the touchdowns, but everybody's role is just as valuable. ... If I'm not making the play, I'm sure I'm doing something to help somebody else make the play."

He's had plenty of opportunities to relive his moment in the sun, including multiple times with his parents.

"My mom was jumping up and down but she really didn't know what was going on," Ambush said. "She couldn't see the play because she was too short to see over the fans in front of her. She called a bunch of times and wanted to talk about it."

Ambush smiled when he heard Friedgen said the hit would go down in Maryland lore, but shook his head about being an unsung hero.

"It's just being in the right place at the right time," Ambush said. "Anyone probably could have made the play. It just so happens I was the one that did."

NOTES: Friedgen said running back Josh Allen (ankle sprain) and wide receiver Latrez Harrison (groin injury) are doubtful for Saturday's game. Tight end Jeff Dugan (concussion), who practiced yesterday, and cornerback Curome Cox (leg bruise) are questionable.

Next for Terps

Matchup: Maryland (8-3, 5-2) vs. Wake Forest (5-6, 3-4)

Site: Groves Stadium, Winston-Salem, N.C.

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 8

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