Hollenbach justifies decision to stay a Terp

Quarterback, who thought about transferring, shows poise after a rocky start

College football

September 04, 2005|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Occasionally last year, in the middle of a frustrating, disappointing season, coach Ralph Friedgen's phone would ring. On the other end of the line would be Jeff Hollenbach, the head football coach at Pennridge High School in Sellersville, Pa., and the father of Maryland's fourth-string quarterback, Sam Hollenbach.

The calls always were cordial and polite - unlike some of Friedgen's discussions with other parents - but Jeff Hollenbach wasn't shy about asking direct questions, including some that required blunt answers.

What does my son have to do to earn more playing time, Hollenbach asked Friedgen. And, realistically, does he have a chance of becoming the starting quarterback at Maryland? Should he think about transferring?

"I don't want him to transfer," Friedgen remembers saying. "Having Sam Hollenbach in our program makes our program better because of the type of person he is. ... I do think he can play here. He just needs to make more plays. Right now, he's not making plays."

A year later, it's stunning how much has changed. Sam Hollenbach didn't make every play last night in Maryland's 23-20 win over Navy, but he made enough of them to justify both Friedgen's faith and his own decision to stick it out with the Terps.

Hollenbach completed 19 of 30 passes for 217 yards against the Midshipmen, didn't fold after two early (and unlucky) interceptions, and drove his team 82 yards in the final minutes, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Weatherly with 1:01 remaining.

"Honestly, I felt really confident out there," Hollenbach said of the final drive. "It was just really fun to be out there." And perhaps most impressively, the quarterback who almost left the program a year ago ran his career record to 2-0.

"Sam's always been a quiet guy, but you can just see him developing into a leader," said Maryland senior linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who tied a career high with 18 tackles.

"Tonight, he looked calm, even in the most toughest situations. Seeing a quarterback calm, it trickles down into the entire team. When I saw him, he let me know we may pull this thing out."

Leadership is something Maryland lacked last season, especially on offense. , And at times in the first half against Navy last night, it looked as if the Terps still had plenty of issues.

"I felt a little nervous," Hollenbach said. "I had a little dry mouth out there."

In the first quarter, one of Hollenbach's passes went through running back Mario Merrills' hands and was intercepted by Navy's Jake Biles Minutes later, Hollenbach was hit as he was throwing and he floated a pass over the head of Terps wide receiver Danny Melendez that was picked off by Navy defensive back Greg Sudderth.

"Both interceptions really weren't his fault," Friedgen said. "What I think he did was not lose his poise. He hung in there and played the way he's been playing. At times, I think he was a little bit tight, and he missed some throws that he hasn't been missing, but overall, I thought he played pretty well."

Hollenbach's game-winning pass - a post pattern to Weatherly in the end zone between the corner and the safety - was probably his best throw of the night, but his most important throw came on the previous play. On 4th-and-8 from the 31-yard line, Hollenbach dropped back and found his first read covered.

Instead of panicking, he calmly dumped the ball underneath to running back Lance Ball, who made two Navy defenders miss, picking up 20 yards before he was tackled.

"I know it was a risky play for me to throw it there on fourth down," Hollenbach said. "But under my breath I was saying, `C'mon Lance! C'mon! Make them miss.' And when he made everybody miss, it was the best feeling in the world."

Friedgen, who called the reception "the turning point in the game," said Hollenbach did exactly what he was supposed to do on the play, even though Ball could have easily been tackled.

"The other guy was covered and that's what he's got to do," Friedgen said. "That's his next progression. I agreed with the call, and obviously it worked, so it was a good call."

Hollenbach, whose father was a quarterback at Illinois in 1973 and 1974, is still a work in progress, but he's also a far cry from the player who made his first career start last year against Wake Forest and who called Friedgen just six months ago at Christmas to tell him he wanted to stay and compete for the starting job.

"I prayed a lot about it, I talked to my father a lot about it and, by the time Christmas rolled around, I felt really comfortable with the decision," Hollenbach said. "Things just worked out in spring ball and summer camp, and I'm just really happy to be here right now."

Next for Terps

Matchup: Clemson (1-0) at Maryland (1-0)

When: Saturday, noon

TV/Radio: ESPN/1300 AM

Yesterday: Clemson beat No. 17 Texas A&M, 25-24.

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