Spring full of hurdles for UM football

Double duty for some on Terps track team

College track and field

April 20, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,SUN REPORTER

College Park -- When Andrew Valmon took over the men's track and field program at Maryland four years ago, the first advice former coach Frank Costello gave him was: "Get with Ralph [Friedgen] and see if you can borrow some of the football players."

Valmon approached the Terps football coach to find out if he could.

An agreement has since developed between Friedgen and Valmon, benefiting both programs when it comes to speed. A door has been opened allowing Valmon to recruit sprinters from the nearby football practice field - although there is an understanding they are football players first - without sacrificing one of his 11.1 scholarships.

"First and foremost they're football players," Valmon said. "We're not here to create track stars. If it comes to that, that's what we'll take, but primarily they're football players who can help us and hopefully we can give them a better product back when we're done.

"Hopefully we'll continue to grow. We may even get to a place where we may work it out and I may not even recruit a lot of short sprinters. Why go out and get a whole bunch of them? I'll just use what's here. That would be the long-term goal. Maximize the numbers you have."

Technically, Valmon doesn't have any right now - Friedgen has prohibited receiver/hurdler Danny Oquendo from practicing with the track team and participating in this week's Atlantic Coast Conference track championships because he hasn't been thrilled with Oquendo's performances at spring practices and the team lacks depth at the position.

Cornerback/sprinter Richard Taylor was competing with the team during the indoor season and also had hopes of running this week, but tore a knee ligament at a recent football practice. And Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland's top wide receiver, isn't allowed to work out with the track team yet because Friedgen is concerned about his grade point average.

Friedgen said he wants his players to carry around a 2.5 GPA if they are considering another sport.

"I'm paying the freight," Friedgen said. "I don't mind helping them if we can do it without hurting our football team. My only concern on it is that they can maintain their academics.

"We both don't want to lose Darrius, either football or track, but I think before it's all over he'll end up running track," Friedgen said. "Hopefully he gets on solid ground."

Heyward-Bey, who is hovering around 2.0 according to Friedgen, was an All-America track athlete in the 60 meters at McDonogh and still has the goal of competing in the 2008 Olympics.

"In high school, for me, track was my thing," Heyward-Bey said. "I had my sights on the 2008 Olympics, that was the goal in 2005. I always wanted to run and represent my country. That's still a goal of mine to do. ... If things didn't work out this past season with football, I was going to take two years and train for the Olympics. Now it's just football, and hopefully one day it could happen. It's tough. Every year guys are getting faster."

While the women's track team has an allotment of 18 scholarships, the men are just shy of the NCAA's maximum of 12.6. Costello, who coached the Maryland men from 1975 to 1980 and led the Terps to six consecutive ACC indoor championships and five consecutive ACC outdoor titles, said he didn't have to rely on football players because he had the full allotment of scholarships to give. Title IX has changed that.

"Valmon said he would only consider football players who were successful track athletes in high school. Oquendo's 2005 time of 7.62 in the high hurdles was fourth best in the country. He approached Friedgen about joining the indoor track team and was excused from a few winter workouts to compete in weekend track meets.

"There were a lot of days when I had to run a track workout and then come back over here and get a lift in," Oquendo said. "Of course my body was tired and really weak, but there was never a day I would run two days in a row. There were a lot of days when I was like maybe I shouldn't be doing this track thing, but I stuck with it and in the end it's all for the better. I feel like I'm running a lot better."

Oquendo, primarily a hurdler, spent his spring break in Florida with the track team, where he ran the 110-meter hurdles trials and finals at the Disney Invitational. His seventh-place finish in 14.77 seconds qualifies him to compete in other races this season.

"He's done excellent considering the limited amount of time I had to work with him," said Costello, now a volunteer who works exclusively with the hurdlers and high jumpers. "He could be a very good hurdler if I had just a little more opportunity to do some technique work."

Taylor stayed home during spring break and competed in the Navy Invitational. Both he and Oquendo qualified for the ECAC/IC4A championships in Boston.

"We both got faster," Taylor said. "We're a lot more flexible, a lot more agile, a lot more knowledgeable about our bodies. Often you don't know how to take care of your body. That's what track really brings to you, a knowledge of your body and how certain things work. We're able to feel certain things and run correctly, which transcends into football and gives us more speed in whatever we're doing."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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