Spring Look: At Maryland

Maryland stepped up and made a name for itself on both the ACC and national scenes last year under first-year coach Ralph Friedgen. Well, "Fridge" is back for an encore, as the Terps look to defend their conference title. Maryland returns the ACC's Player of the Year (LB E.J. Henderson) and Offensive Player of the Year (TB Bruce Perry), but lost its starting quarterback in spring drills.

Sure, it's a cliche. However, it's the perfect description of Maryland football for 2002: What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, the Terps entered preseason workouts focused on establishing an identity. A year later, Maryland has made quite a name for itself under coach Ralph Friedgen, who looks to build on the foundation he laid a year ago in guiding the Terps to their first Atlantic Coast Conference championship since 1985.

Friedgen, affectionately known as "Fridge," captured no less than 13 national Coach of the Year honors this past season. The Terrapins were one of the nation's best feel-good stories, finishing 10-1 in the regular season, including 7-1 in the ACC. Florida State tagged the Terps with their lone conference loss, upending visiting Maryland 52-31 Oct. 27 in Doak Campbell Stadium.

The Terps return 15 starters and 43 letterwinners from last season, including ACC Player of the Year in linebacker E.J. Henderson and ACC Offensive Player of the Year in tailback Bruce Perry. Maryland welcomes back eight starters on offense, losing quarterback Shaun Hill, center Melvin Fowlerand wide receiver Gulian Gary, five starters on defense and both specialists.

But not all the news was good from Maryland during spring drills.

Quarterback Chris Kelley could miss the upcoming season after tearing a ligament in his right knee in the team's scrimmage last month. Kelley, a redshirt sophomore, was at the top of the depth chart until he tore the ligament when he was tackled in the scrimmage. Kelley tore the same ligament in his left knee last year. He will not be able to begin the 2002 season and could miss the entire year, depending on his rehabilitation, the university said in a statement.

Kelley was one of Maryland's most acclaimed recruits in recent years. However, in a summer all-star game in 2000, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, forcing him to miss the 2000 season while rehabilitating. Then, before last season, while bodysurfing at the beach, he suffered a partially torn ACL in the same knee.

West Virginia transfer Scott McBrien had been battling Kelley for the starting position, and it now appears he will have the job. McBrien played one season at West Virginia, then transferred to Maryland in August 2001. He sat out last season because of NCAA rules regarding transfers and spent most of his time on the scout team, running each week opponent's offense against the first-team defense.

McBrien, a lefty, completed 13 of 20 passes for 121 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions in the spring game. He threw for 252 passing yards in three quarters against Notre Dame as a redshirt freshman at West Virginia in 2001.

"Scotty can throw the football," Friedgen said. "What he has to do is become more precise and more disciplined. As he learns our system, I think that will happen. . . . I like his arm and his release. I think he has a chance to help us."

McBrien is backed by JUCO transfer Orlando Evans, who is noted for his athletic ability and quick release. Last year he completed 165 of 251 passes for 2,391 yards and 28 touchdowns en route to a perfect 12-0 season at City College of San Francisco.

OFFENSE

While the Terps have a serious question mark at quarterback, they have plenty of talent to build around in Perry, a deep corps of fullbacks, four starters on the offensive line and talented receivers. Last year, Maryland featured one of the nation's most balanced and entertaining attacks, averaging 35.5 points and 439.7 yards per game.

Perry, who entered last season fighting for a starting job and ended it as a Doak Walker Award finalist and ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors, anchored the rushing attack with 1,264 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Perry, however, continues to recover from a stomach muscle strain that he suffered in practice prior to the Orange Bowl (Florida waxed the Terps 56-23). James Lynch, a 260-pounder, returns at fullback.

Left guard Todd Wike, a first-team All-ACC selection, anchors an offensive line that helped the Terps record 4,837 yards and a school-record 390 points. C.J. Brooks returns at left tackle after a strong freshman season in which he earned Freshman All-America honors from The Sporting News. Lamar Bryant returns at right guard and Jeff Dugan, whom Friedgen believes is the best blocking tight end in the league, is at tight end. However, first-team All-ACC center Melvin Fowler must be replaced.

"The line should be a real strong point for us," Friedgen said. "All of those guys have played ad have played together. They are a very cohesive unit."

All but one receiver who saw significant playing time last season returns. One of the more interesting spring stories, however, centered on Latrez Harrison last season's second-string quarterback behind Hill. Harrison made his presence felt, catching a pair of touchdown passes in the spring game. Harrison caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from McBrien, then hauled in a 69-yarder from Evans.

Jafar Williams also returns after finishing last season as the team's third-leading receiver with 39 receptions for 425 yards and two scores.

DEFENSE

The Terps stormed the league last year with a high-pressure, blitzing-style defense. That's not expected to change despite missing a handful of key players from a year ago, highlighted by all-ACC first-team defensive back selections Tony Jackson and Tony Okanlawon.

"We are going to be very young on defense this year," Friedgen said. "We are probably going to make some mistakes, but I think we have a chance to get better as time goes on and, ultimately, have a very good defense for some time."

Henderson, who sat out most of spring recovering from a back injury, anchors the defensive unit. Leon Joe returns at the weakside linebacker slot, and LeRoy Ambush is expected to step into a starter's role at the strongside. Mike Whaley, last year's starter at the "Leo" (rush end) slot, was not eligible to participate in spring drills. Sophomore Jamahl Cochran was inserted into Whaley's spot.

The Terps also lost just one starter on the defensive line, but it was a mighty impressive one in Charles Hill, the team's second-leading tackler behind Henderson. Still, C.J. Feldheim and Randy Starks return, a duo who combined for 71 tackles and 6.5 sacks last year. In fact, Starks was just one of four freshmen to play last season, displaying impressive athleticism and strength. Additionally, Durrand Rountree returns for his senior season at end.

Junior Curome Cox who started 19 games during his first two years, anchors a secondary that must replace both starting safeties from last season. Domonique Foxworth is expected to start at the other corner. Dennard Wilsonand Ty Stewart are in a battle at strong safety, while Madiue Williams who sat out last season, is expected to start at free safety.

The Terps should also have one of the most complete kicking games in the country. Brooks Barnard, a first-team All-ACC selection last season, returns at punter. He is expected to end his career as Maryland's all-time punting leader as he carries a 43.9-career average into the season. Nick Novak, meanwhile, overcame a slow start and hit 12 of his final 14 field goals, with his misses coming from 50 and 62 yards.

Stability should also be a key for the Terps. Friedgen's entire staff, including nine full-time and two graduate assistant coaches, remained with the program following last season's 10-2 record.

The Terps will kick off a school-record 13 game regular season when it plays Notre Dame in the Kickoff Classic Aug. 31. It will mark the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Maryland, which went undefeated at home last season, will also play seven games at Byrd Stadium. Naturally, fans are excited about Terrapin football. Athletic officials said they already have eclipsed last season's ticket sales, with more than 13,000 sold.

Maryland recorded the second largest home attendance increase for all Division I-A teams last season, averaging 43,564 fans -- an increase of 27.6 percent over 2000 (34,129). The Terps' 2001 home attendance of 304,953 included the fourth-largest crowd in stadium history when 52,462 showed for game against Clemson.

Just for the sake of comparison, FSU attracted 488,645 fans to six home games for an average of 81,441.

JUST THE FACTS

Coach: Ralph Friedgen (second season, 10-2 overall)

2001 record: 10-2 (7-1 ACC, champion)

2001 Final Ranking: 10th ESPN-USA Today, 11th Associated Press

Letterwinners returning: 20 offense, 21 defense

Starters returning: 8 offense, 5 defense, 2 specialists

First year of football: 1892

All-time record: 546-487-43

All-time bowl/playoff record: 6-10-2


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