UM's Fenner still making highlights

Self-made video helped receiver catch Terps' eye

College Football

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

COLLEGE PARK - It was like something out of an infomercial, the Do-It-Yourself Guide to earning an athletic scholarship. That's how desperate Derrick Fenner was.

During Fenner's senior year at Hampton (Va.) High School, big-time programs not only weren't recruiting him, they didn't even know his name. And so, with the help of a family friend, Fenner made a VHS tape of himself and mailed it off to Maryland.

On the video, Fenner ran routes in his back yard and caught passes from his father, Darryl. It wasn't much to brag about, but he had no other choice. The ball was thrown to him so rarely in high school, making a highlight tape would have been impossible.

Had the tape ended there, Fenner probably wouldn't have ended up at Maryland, but what happened next made recruiting coordinator James Franklin do a double take.

The video cut to a basketball court, and there was Fenner, at 5 feet 11, dunking. He was slamming the ball two-handed, reverse jamming with authority and stuffing after 360-degree pirouettes.

When Franklin showed the tape to Terps coach Ralph Friedgen, his first reaction was: This can't be real. Is he dunking on an 8-foot rim? He was not.

Desperate for speed and quickness, Friedgen saw enough to roll the dice on Fenner, whose only other scholarship offer was from Connecticut.

"I wanted to go to Maryland so bad," Fenner said. "I think about it now and it's like I'm living in a fantasy world. I was an athlete in high school, but I wasn't so great that I was getting interviews and stuff. I was just a regular player. But [Friedgen] gave me a chance, and I've felt like I've owed him."

Fenner, a junior, has steadily blossomed into one of Maryland's best receivers. A year ago, he was the Terps' primary deep threat, averaging an eye-popping 27.8 yards a catch and pulling in four passes of 50 yards or more.

This season, it appears he's on his way to becoming a complete player. Through two games, he's tied for the team lead in catches (five), leads the Terps with 97 yards receiving and has one touchdown catch.

"I think he's made dramatic progress," said Franklin, who is also Maryland's wide receivers coach. "He always had the athletic ability, but right now the difference is he's very hungry. He wants to be a great player, and he's willing to pay the price."

Effort was never a problem, but Fenner's confidence took awhile to build. As a freshman, he sometimes lost focus in practice and would drop passes and run the wrong routes. He could blow past nearly every defensive back, but sometimes, it was like he didn't believe it himself.

"Coach called me into his office for a talk," Fenner said. "He asked me if I believed in myself. I was kind of stumbling when he asked me that question. I was like, `Uh ... ' He said, `See, that's the problem right there. You need to have confidence in your ability. You need to believe in yourself.' Ever since that day, I just felt like I could be good."

Fenner had surgery to remove his appendix and missed the final three regular-season games of 2003, including the Virginia game, when he had hoped to show his friends back home that he was a pretty good player, despite what they might remember from high school.

"I just wanted to show them I'd grown up from high school to college," Fenner said.

The folks in Virginia will get the chance to see for themselves when Maryland travels to Charlottesville on Nov. 6.

"Derrick has really turned out to be a very productive player," Friedgen said. "I really think the best is yet to come with him."

NOTE: Notre Dame transfer Isaiah Gardner, a 5-11, 190-pound defensive back, has enrolled in classes and practiced with the Terps last night.

Next for Maryland

Matchup: No. 21 Maryland (2-0) vs. No. 7 West Virginia (2-0)

Site: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, W.Va.

When: Saturday, noon

TV/Radio: ESPN2/ WIYY (97.9 FM)

Line: West Virginia by 6 1/2

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