Terps want big buildup

Byrd renovation just part of effort to boost profile

Maryland football

August 04, 2008|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun Reporter

COLLEGE PARK - From his office overlooking the east end zone, Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen can peer inside Byrd Stadium and track the progress of its renovation. He can hear the satisfying rumble of construction and feel its vibration.

The makeover of the 58-year-old stadium is critical to Friedgen's vision for Maryland's football future, but it's far from the only component.

Entering his eighth season, Friedgen is contemplating a number of strategies - including scheduling more games with geographic rivals, working to expand the booster group and adding new incentives to motivate players - for ensuring the program is on an upward arc.

In a 90-minute interview as he prepared to open preseason practices, Friedgen, 61, shared a half-dozen ideas for trying to win more games and heighten the program's profile.

Some of the proposals - such as emphasizing West Virginia and other "rivalry" opponents - are designed to appeal largely to fans.

"When I was at Georgia Tech, we played Georgia and I loved that game. That's what gets the crowds going," Friedgen said. "Anytime you play a border state, there's going to be a rivalry, and that's good for your program. Virginia is always a big game, but their rivalry is with Virginia Tech."

Maryland and West Virginia next meet in 2010. Friedgen said he would also like to schedule more games with Navy, whom the Terrapins last played in 2005 and don't meet again until 2010.

Other of Friedgen's ideas are designed with team members in mind. The coach says he's "kicking around" an idea to reward players' athletic and academic achievements with Terps stickers to display on their helmets.

"I was thinking about a fighting Terp [decal]. I'd like to have an academic one and a football one. For example, if you don't get to class, then I take the academic one off," the coach said.

Friedgen continues to explore other motivational tools. He already asks players on the road to line up at buffet tables according to their grade point averages. "Maybe sitting in the omelet line for 30 minutes will motivate them to go to class a little more," he said.

In all his ideas, it's evident that Friedgen, whose Terrapins are coming off an injury-marred 6-7 season capped by an Emerald Bowl loss to Oregon State, is not content to stand pat. He seems to follow the admonition credited to the late pitcher Satchel Paige: "Don't look back; something might be gaining on you."

The offseason hiring of offensive coordinator James Franklin has eased Friedgen's workload, enabling him to work more with players individually and focus on the big picture. "He seems more relaxed," said Dave Sollazzo, the defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator.

The Terrapins begin their first practice today. They open the season at home against Delaware on Aug. 30.

The stadium is a key to the program's fortunes, Friedgen said. A number of Atlantic Coast Conference schools have expanded their football stadiums recently, or made plans to. Maryland must keep pace, Friedgen said, to entice recruits and fans alike.

"We're one of the last to get going here. But I think it's going to be really nice," the coach said.

Expansion of Tyser Tower, with its 64 suites, is to be finished for the 2009 season. Some 8,000 seats are to be added to the west end zone in a later phase, bringing stadium capacity to about 60,000. Eventually, Friedgen said, "we're going to lower the field and put FieldTurf in and make the seats behind the bench a little more premium. And then we're going to redo our locker room."

Friedgen is intricately involved in the locker-room design, scrutinizing such aspects as how many columns there will be. "I want an open locker room," he says.

Friedgen said he hopes the stadium will attract more members to the Maryland Gridiron Network, or MGN. The booster group, which raises money for football projects, has about 1,000 members now - a figure expected to rise as the season draws nearer.

Dozens of MGN members are former Maryland players. That's a group that figures into yet another one of Friedgen's ideas, this one tied to the players' traditional pre-game march into the stadium.

"This year, what I'm trying to do is invite our lettermen to join us in Terrapin Alley. Let the lettermen walk before us and let the people recognize some of the players who have been here in the past," Friedgen said.

"I'm really trying to build these traditions that involve our fans."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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