Terps getting a grip

Under new coach Bossard, receivers are steadily improving

November 16, 2005|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

COLLEGE PARK -- One of the first things Bryan Bossard told the Maryland receivers when he took over as their coach in early March was he didn't know anything about their past. The second was he didn't care about it anyway.

"We're in this thing together," he told them. "Let's get this thing done."

Apparently, they listened.

Maryland's receivers have shown marked improvement since last year's 5-6 season in which the Terps finished ninth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in passing offense. They have since climbed to second in the ACC with an average of 253 yards a game, and this year's group attributes its progress to him. For the three leading seniors, their time with Bossard has been brief yet a "blessing," according to senior Jo Jo Walker.

"It was just like a bad dream last year," said Walker, who has more than doubled his receiving yards per game since 2004 (from 15.4 yards to 41.3). "When he came in, it was like a clean slate. We got to start over, and he believes in us."

The Terps are averaging 13.8 yards a catch, and four players average more than 40 yards a game. The only player to surpass that mark last year was tight end Vernon Davis, who has since doubled it with a team-high 81.2 yards a game. Senior Derrick Fenner, who averaged 39.1 yards last year, is now averaging 47.6.

The player who seems to have taken the biggest step forward, though, is senior Danny Melendez. Coming into this season, he made only 21 catches in three years. After Maryland's 33-30 overtime win against North Carolina on Saturday, Bossard said Melendez has the best hands on the team. His 80-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter gave Maryland a 30-27 lead.

"He's got tremendous hands," said Bossard, who replaced James Franklin, now with the staff of the Green Bay Packers. "He's a very smart football player. He's blocked better than he ever had. That's something I take pride in. Blocking is something we do also, we don't just catch the football."

Melendez said he was dealing with several nagging injuries last year and simply wasn't given enough opportunities to "show what [he] was blessed with."

"He [Bossard] brought a new attitude, a new enthusiasm, a sense of family," Melendez said. "I'm just so grateful he's here."

Bossard said it "goes both ways."

"Last year wasn't a lot of fun for them," Bossard said. "I tried to bring the fun back into the game. ... If you're consistent and honest, you can build bonds and relationships," he said. "That only comes through sweat and blood. That's how it's been. They bought into my coaching. It's working out pretty good now."

The players he appears to have gotten the closest to - Fenner, Walker and Melendez - will be playing their final game at Byrd Stadium at noon Saturday against Boston College.

"I'm glad I got a year with them, I really am," Bossard said. "I'm a glass-is-half-full type of guy. I'm trying to maximize what they can do. We've talked about raising the bar every game, setting the standard for wide receiver play at Maryland, so when you look back four to five years at Maryland, everyone is going to be compared to the 2005 wide receiver corps."

Notes -- Fenner was bothered yesterday by a hamstring injury and was held out of contact drills. ... Cornerback Josh Wilson has been held out of practice the past two days with a concussion. Coach Ralph Friedgen said he expects Wilson to practice today and be ready Saturday. ... Isiah Gardner, who has been hampered by groin pulls, was also held out, along with receiver Drew Weatherly, who had a concussion last week. ... Friedgen also said he opened the kicker competition, allowing Obi Egekeze to challenge Dan Ennis, who has missed half of his field-goal attempts this season. Ennis missed two field goals and an extra point Saturday.

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

Boston College @Maryland Saturday, noon, Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 105.7 FM Line: BC by 2 1/2

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