Maryland linebacker Alex Wujciak plans to use painful memories,… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
GREENSBORO, N.C. — — As linebacker Alex Wujciak jogged onto the practice fields at Maryland in March for the start of spring football practice, he was shocked to find something had changed. An old, familiar presence had picked up and left.
After struggling through a lingering left knee injury that hampered him for more than a year and a half, Wujciak finally felt like he could trust the knee again. Less than two weeks away from the start of Maryland's preseason practices, Wujciak still feels the same way. It's a sensation that's nothing short of bizarre for him.
"It almost feels weird to be healthy," said Wujciak, who suffered a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in 2007 in his left knee. "When you're hurt, you're used to practicing in pain and you can overcome it. I remember jogging out when spring ball started and my knee was healthy. It was almost ridiculous."
What's even more absurd is how Wujciak, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior from West Caldwell, N.J., played last season on what amounted to one good knee. He was a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection after finishing second in the conference with 131 tackles.
"I know the type of athlete he was before he tore his knee up, and to fight back and still be one of the better players in this conference, I'm happy for him," Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "Wujciak is an old-school linebacker. He's a blue-collar guy. He's always working hard. He'll hit you."
Wujciak's weekly practice schedule last season was anything but conventional. He said he'd come to practice on Mondays, but wouldn't do much. On Tuesdays, he practiced at much less than full speed. He'd sit out Wednesdays, before attempting to go all out in Thursday practices.
"With the knee injury I had, it was tough to get my knee recouped in time for the next week," said Wujciak on Sunday on the first day of the ACC Football Kickoff media event. "I was on crutches for like six months, so it was tough. Before the [season opener at] Cal last year, I probably ran like nine times [in the offseason], including practices."
Now, as Wujciak rounds into shape, he's not the only player or coach on Maryland's roster hoping to experience a rewarding healing process. After going 2-10 last season, while finishing 10th in the ACC in total offense (316 yards per game) and 11th in total defense (396 yards per game), Terps coach Ralph Friedgen is apparently taking a bit of a different approach heading into this season.
"I think he's not giving as many people lenience," Wujciak said. "If guys have played, he's expecting them to come out and practice like veterans. Obviously, there's a learning curve for freshmen who come in and enroll early. Guys who have played and have been in the program, he's really getting on them and pushing them to step their game up."
While most of the Terps faithful would prefer to bury last season's misery in a hole and cover it with dirt, Wujciak's method of improving involves resurrecting the most painful of memories.
Wujciak understands the value of digging deep into the details of what took place last season through film study and discussion. Though it may not be the most comfortable experience, he's used to a little extended pain, and he knows how to overcome it.
"You've just got to look back at those games and see why that happened," Wujciak said. "Look at Middle Tennessee [a 32-31 Maryland loss at home]. Our defense couldn't come up with one stop. Look at games like Duke [a 17-14 Maryland loss at home], where we fumble a punt on our side of the 50 [and Duke recovered] to go score and win the game. It's games like that we've got to look back at where we made our mistakes and learn from them."