Armstrong, Bolston claim their places on defensive line

Terps starters have big shoes to fill, taking over for Starks, Feldheim

College Football

August 15, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - As freshmen last year, Rob Armstrong and Conrad Bolston got yelled at. A lot.

Some of it was deserved - Maryland needed Armstrong and Bolston to contribute immediately, and there were plenty of rookie mistakes to correct - but most of the yelling was simply the coaching style preferred by Terps defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo.

Sollazzo, you see, yells when he wants to encourage, yells when he wants to teach and yells when he wants to discipline a player. As far as he's concerned, if he isn't yelling at someone, he's just not trying hard enough.

"That's just me," said Sollazzo, whose post-practice voice is often reduced to a gravelly whisper. "I'm always going to be getting after them, no matter what."

This season, there haven't been nearly as many mistakes from Armstrong and Bolston, but when they do happen, Sollazzo isn't the person who gets upset.

"When you become a starter, you're less accountable to the coach and more accountable to the team," Bolston said. "If you mess up, and everyone has to run something again, your teammates are the ones yelling at you because they expect more from you."

Expectations are definitely greater for both Armstrong and Bolston. Together, the pair will go a long way in determining whether Maryland can adequately replace defensive tackle Randy Starks, who left early for the NFL, as well as senior nose tackle C.J. Feldheim, a two-year starter.

Sollazzo and coach Ralph Friedgen want to take advantage of the depth Maryland has on the defensive line - Henry Scott and Justin Duffie will also see plenty of action - but the majority of the snaps will likely go to Armstrong and Bolston, two of the Terps' biggest players.

"I'm just working my hardest, because that's all I've got," Armstrong said. "I'm not the fastest or the strongest, but I work real hard to get better. I know Coach Sollazzo has a lot of trust in me."

Bolston and Armstrong were each highly recruited in high school, but the paths they took to get to Maryland were very different. Armstrong graduated in 2002 from Washington Lee High School in Arlington, Va., but instead of signing with a college, he enrolled at Fork Union Military Academy for a year of prep school.

"It was hard work down there," Armstrong said. "When you wake up, the marching director is right there. So you march, then you go to class for eight hours, then you have a pretty tough practice. It's so hard there, when you get here, it makes it seem not so hard."

Bolston, who was recruited by Ohio State, Florida, Penn State and Tennessee out of St. John's (D.C.), was given the humbling task last season of backing up Starks. But before long, he was picking up invaluable lessons. In Maryland's 21-14 win over Clemson, he nailed quarterback Charlie Whitehurst for his first career sack.

"I think it was good for me to sit behind Randy," Bolston said. "He and Feldheim were pretty different players, and I got to sit back and watch and see how it's supposed to be done instead of just winging it. C.J. showed me a lot of the technical stuff, and Randy showed me a lot of different moves. It helped me a lot."

Sollazzo's main challenge now is to make Bolston and Armstrong understand that a great effort on one play means very little if they take the next two plays off.

"Both of them have a great amount of ability," Sollazzo said. "When they play with enthusiasm and effort, they're great football players. But they haven't mastered that part yet. They're getting close. The more they do it, the better they're going to be."

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