Terps 'hung together' through changes, now looking forward to season

Maryland veterans say Edsall can take them where 'we need to get to'

  • Terps defensive lineman Joe Vellano flips a tractor tire while participating in the The Maryland Chapter of Uplifting Athletes' second-annual "Lift For Life" event Tuesday in College Park.
Terps defensive lineman Joe Vellano flips a tractor tire while… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
July 12, 2011|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — — It's only been seven months since word began to filter out to Maryland players that Ralph Friedgen was being dismissed as coach.

As they worked out in the unyielding heat Tuesday drenched in sweat, several players said it felt as if much more time had elapsed since the December coaching switch. So much has happened since — the arrival of coach Randy Edsall from Connecticut, the hiring of an almost entirely new staff. Five starters have been lost on offense and four on defense. Several players — notably safety-turned-linebacker Kenny Tate — have switched positions.

"It seems like it was an eternity ago," said punt returner Tony Logan. "It was all kind of surreal. We had never gone through a coaching change since we were all here, and I've been here four going on five years. But we all hung together as a team. We know it's all just business."

It's been an offseason of transition for Logan and his teammates. The young Terps — who opened last spring's practices with just 10 seniors on their two-deep roster — have learned just how unpredictable life can be.

"My first four years in this program is definitely something I'll always remember, something I'll always cherish," said fifth-year offensive lineman Andrew Gonnella. "But at the same time, we're Maryland. Certain things happen, and you've got to deal with it and move on. Coach Edsall is a great coach. I think he can take us to the high points we need to get to."

Wearing black shorts and red T-shirts, Maryland players conducted a series of exercises as temperatures pushed into the 90s. They ran, lifted weights and labored to flip oversized tires across the field.

The strength and conditioning drills were part of the Maryland Chapter of Uplifting Athletes' push to raise money for charity. Proceeds from the event will go to the Boomer Esiason Foundation for cystic fibrosis research (http://www.esiason.org).

Since this wasn't a practice — players report to training camp Aug. 8 — Edsall and the other coaches were not permitted to attend.

The Terrapins, who finished 9-4 last season, open the season at home in prime-time against Miami on ESPN. They next face border rival West Virginia, also at Byrd Stadium.

"We start right off the bat again," said third-year defensive lineman Joe Vellano. "Even TV-wise, it's a big thing for the first-year starters. This isn't a Saturday afternoon game with everybody else playing. We're the only ones. It's a big deal mentally. I was in that position last year. I had only played a couple plays here and there and right into the mix."

Maryland opened last season with a 17-14 victory over Navy at M&T Bank Stadium on Labor Day.

Players say they used spring practices to adjust to Edsall, who led Connecticut from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as 1-AA) to the Football Bowl Subdivision upon his arrival in 1999 and won eight games or more the past five years. The new coach has strict criteria for off-the-field behavior. He asks players not to wear ball caps, do-rags or earrings inside the Gossett Football Team House.

"It's a different style," said Logan, who ranked third in the nation with an 18.1 punt return average. "I like to wear my earrings and every time I come into conference room he like rips my earrings out of my ear. But it's all fun and jokes. He demands respect, but he also gives out a lot of respect."

Maryland also hired offensive coordinator Gary Crowton from LSU, and named former Southern Mississippi assistant Todd Bradford as defensive coordinator.

"Football is football, and there are only so many ways you can twist the concept," Gonnella said of switching systems. "Certain [terminology] they kept the same for us, certain things they mixed up."

Gonnella started all 13 games at left guard. Maryland was due to have four offensive-line starters back, but right guard Justin Lewis was dropped from the team after being accused of punching a bar manager.

"Some unfortunate things happened," Gonnella said. "We did lose Justin Lewis. He was a great player, a good friend. But hopefully he'll move on to better things. Right now, we've got Josh Cary at the right guard position, and he's just the definition of a blue collar guy. He was a walk-on who earned a scholarship and worked his way up the ranks. He's a competitor."



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