UM, Friedgen have work cut out to rebuild quarterback pipeline

OTHER VOICES

August 30, 2005|By Paul McMullen

IF MARYLAND and Navy can meet on a football field for the first time in 40 years, can Ralph Friedgen turn College Park into Quarterback U. again?

"Everyone," he said, "was making fun of me last year, saying, `Friedgen's not so good when he doesn't have a quarterback.' Nobody is."

Bowl games and 10-win seasons were the norm in Friedgen's first three seasons as a head coach, progress that stalled last year. Think the Orioles stunk this month? The Maryland offense was just as bad last October and November, when a crop of green, inconsistent quarterbacks made Friedgen long for when the Terps were loaded at the sport's most important position.

Two decades ago, Friedgen was in the midst of a five-year run as an assistant coach at his alma mater. His return to Maryland in 1982 coincided with Boomer Esiason's last two seasons as the starter. Boomer begat Frank Reich, the master of the comeback, and Stan Gelbaugh. When Friedgen followed Bobby Ross to Georgia Tech in 1987, Neil O'Donnell and Scott Zolak were in the Terps' pipeline.

All had lengthy NFL careers, and if not for some Joe Montana magic, Esiason would have won a Super Bowl.

Developing quarterbacks became Friedgen's calling card. In two stints as an assistant at Georgia Tech and two stops at Maryland, he has had five of the top 30 in career passing yardage in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The most recent was Scott McBrien, and there's the rub.

McBrien arrived as a transfer from West Virginia. He was preceded by Shaun Hill, who came to the Terps as a junior-college transfer, meaning that Maryland has had little success with high school quarterbacks since the 1980s.

That drought has as much to do with the Terps as the vagaries of potential.

Tim Couch was the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NFL draft, while Tom Brady lasted until the sixth round a year later. Pro teams, despite their psychological and physical testing, can't get it right, a hit-and-miss nature compounded in the most unscientific recruiting of any NCAA sport.

In basketball, lacrosse and soccer, Gary Williams, Dave Cottle and Sasho Cirovski can evaluate talent at an endless round of offseason leagues and summer camps. That 24/7/365 mentality does not exist in football. Scouting combines have proliferated, but good prospects still play on lousy high school teams, or ones that don't tape their games.

Jeremy Ricker, a senior at Bishop McDevitt High in Harrisburg, Pa., has committed to play for Maryland. He is rated among the nation's best quarterback prospects, signifying nothing.

Since the last Maryland-Navy game, two men have led the Terps in passing three straight seasons. Little was expected of Esiason, and no other Division I-A program offered a scholarship to Brian Cummings.

Cummings relied on guts to become the only Mark Duffner recruit to make an impact at the position; Kevin Foley, Ken Mastrole, Trey Evans and Malik Campbell never panned out for assorted reasons. The Ron Vanderlinden era wasn't much better. Two-year starter Calvin McCall switched to basketball, Latrez Harrison to receiver and Chris Kelley to defensive back.

Vanderlinden did bring in Hill and the core that won 31 games in three seasons. McBrien also prospered under offensive coordinator Charlie Taafe and Friedgen, who will start Sam Hollenbach against Navy. He was one of four Terps quarterbacks who struggled with a steep learning curve last season.

Friedgen said his system provides a primer "on what they're going to have learn on the next level," but now the Terps' quarterback presence in the NFL is restricted to the sidelines. Mike Tice, Maryland's quarterback in 1979 and '80, coaches the Minnesota Vikings, who carry Hill as their No. 3. Hill has never played a down in the NFL.

The last to leave College Park and get under center in an NFL regular-season game was Scott Milanovich, who made a cameo in the second game of 1996 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He signed with the Terps in 1991, when they had five quarterbacks playing in the NFL.

"I've been flabbergasted that we haven't been able to get a quarterback to come in," Friedgen said. "With what Charlie's done with Shaun Hill and Scott McBrien, and I think he's going to do it again with Sam Hollenbach; if we get a guy with all those talents, we're surely going to develop him. ... We try to recruit the best quarterbacks in the country. The problem is, everyone else is after those guys, too."

Paul McMullen is a reporter for The Sun.

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