Making return plans

Terps: Expectations are lower, but Ralph Friedgen's track record gives rise to hopes that he can lift the program back to prominence.

College Football '05

Maryland

September 01, 2005|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - For decades, Ralph Friedgen's summer coaching ritual has included a page-by-page review of the previous playbook, watching each game once more, and other tedious tasks intended to analyze the football season and improve upon it.

For fear of being redundant and boring, he didn't do it last year. It was Friedgen's first losing season in 17 years.

"I don't think I'll ever make that mistake again," said Friedgen, whose Terps finished 5-6 last fall. "I put that on me."

And now it's on him to turn it around, just as he did in 2001, when he took over the program.

Expectations for Maryland are perhaps the lowest they've been in the Friedgen era, a new take on a program that has been to major bowl games three of the past four years and won two of them.

The difference this year is that for the first time, Friedgen is working with a roster filled entirely with players either he or his staff recruited, not the previous regime. While improvement this year will be critical, it could also be a measuring stick of the staff's ability to find and develop playmakers.

"I know we've been here five years, and people don't want to hear we have a lot of young players, but we do have a lot of young players," defensive coordinator Gary Blackney said. "And we have a lot of good, young players. The last two years have been, in my opinion and in the opinion of the recruiting gurus, they've probably been top-20 classes, at least.

"They have to mature very quickly," he added. "We can't afford to wait around. There's got to be a sense of urgency for those kids, and for us to get them ready to play."

Plenty of turnover

That's because the Terps appear to have lost more during the offseason than they gained. Graduation included 10 players who signed with NFL teams. Injuries during preseason camp affected nearly a dozen starters, including senior Stephon Heyer, the Terps' top offensive lineman and a pro prospect. For the first time in four years, Friedgen had to find a place-kicker and long snapper. Returning are the same quarterbacks who produced more turnovers than touchdowns in the final four games of last season.

Those within the program are undeterred, though, by the media's predicted fifth-place finish among six teams in the Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"It's the perfect situation right now," said linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who led the ACC with 123 tackles last year. "Nobody is counting on us to make any noise in the ACC. ... There's no expectations on us. It's a chance for us to come out and play loose and win some games."

For Friedgen, there's no other choice.

"I told our coaches we've got to do the best coaching job we've done in our lives this year," he said.

He already has set a pretty high standard. Friedgen returned to his alma mater four years ago, hired to reconstruct a program that had one winning season in a decade. He inherited a team that finished 5-6 overall, and had only three wins in the ACC - the same as his record last fall.

The Terrapin nation was stunned, as Maryland won its first seven games under Friedgen and overtook perennial power Florida State as ACC champion.

"I hope there are a lot of similarities" to 2001, Friedgen said. "This group of players is very similar in terms of preparation. I think the kids are really hungry; they want to make amends for last year."

So does he.

Friedgen said he replayed the spring film about 15 times and had the offensive coaches in for two weeks to review it with him. It was only one week into preseason camp, though, before the staff was making adjustments.

Heyer's season ended when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Two more players - reserve tailback T.D. Callahan (John Carroll) and linebacker Erin Henderson (Aberdeen) - suffered torn ACLs, their seasons cut short. A string of injuries followed, forcing Friedgen and his staff to insert second- and third-string players, many of whom are freshmen.

According to Rivals.com, one of the premier recruiting Web sites in the country, this year's class of freshmen ranked 16th in the nation. The 2004 class was ranked No. 17 - a jump from No. 35 in 2002, Friedgen's second year on the job. This year's class includes receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, a four-star recruit from Silver Spring; Jared Gaither, a four-star offensive lineman from White Plains; speedy defensive back Anthony Wiseman, a graduate of DeMatha; and Jeremy Navarre, a former fullback from Joppatowne who has earned the starting nod at defensive end. All of them are expected to get playing time.

Tom Lemming, host of Generation Next on CSTV who has followed recruiting closely for the past 27 years, pointed to the 46 players from Maryland on Friedgen's roster as a sign of success.

Home-grown talent

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