New Terps DB coach Lempa Sees 'A Goldmine'

Coach Ralph Friedgen didn't take any chances when he hired his defensive backs coach in January. He could have brought in a hot-shot recruiter or a young up-and-comer, but he went with the proven commodity—55-year-old Kevin Lempa from Boston College. It was the safe play.


Faced with the task of invigorating Maryland's secondary, Lempa won't be using much of that philosophy. Why make the safe play? Why hold a receiver to a short gain when you can bat down a pass? Why bat down a pass when you can make a pick?

"You can't be afraid to make plays—that's the key thing," Lempa said. "I talk to my players all the time—‘You got to take a chance,' especially in practice, so that you know when you get in a game situation how far you can go in order to make that play."

That aggressive style has worked at every one of Lempa's stops, especially in Chestnut Hill. Boston College picked off 21 passes last season, tied for third most in the nation, and 17 in 2004, most in the Big East that year. The Eagles had five interceptions against Maryland the last two years.

Conversely, the Terps had just eight interceptions in 2006, three of which were by linebackers. It was a bend-but-not-break secondary, ranking a modest 55th in pass defense. But the opportunities to make big plays weren't there.

"Since I've been here the last three years our coaches weren't letting us take too many chances, but that's what makes secondaries great, players great—they take their chances and they know they can make plays in the game," said junior cornerback Kevin Barnes.

For Barnes and the rest of the secondary, Lempa's approach has provided them with a whole new prospective on what they can achieve this season.

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Isaiah Gardner didn't go home like most players the last two weeks before camp started. Instead, the senior cornerback worked with professional trainers in New Jersey, fine-tuning his footwork and breaks.

"I've been doing a lot of extra stuff in the off-season—getting little techniques down and everything, just getting real focused and trying to spread it to the rest of my teammates," he said.

Josh Wilson was the unquestioned leader of the secondary, the defense and arguably the entire team last year. Gardner is ready to take that role, at least with the secondary, and he's vocal about it.

"Deeeeee-Block!" he'll yell as the defensive backs convene. The d-block is a section of cells in correctional facilities and it's the nickname they've given themselves. The rallying cry means "lock it down," Gardner explained.

He might have the toughest task of doing so during camp, though. Gardner lines up opposite star receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who provides a tough challenge to keep in check, let alone lock up.

"We're going to be as competitive as possible," he said on their practice battles. "I want to win every one and he wants to win every one but it's just not going to happen that way."

Surprisingly enough, dealing with Heyward-Bey isn't always the toughest part of practice—sometimes it's going through Lempa's drills. "Sometimes you can get coached but you feel like you're doing drills that are not really realistic," Gardner said. "But everything he puts in…it's all for a reason."

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In Saturday's scrimmage, the quarterbacks went 29 for 39 for 315 yards with a pair of touchdowns and only one interception, credited to Erin Henderson. Friedgen was surprised the offense moved the ball so well, but called the secondary tough on third downs.

Barnes wasn't pleased with the secondary's performance in the scrimmage. Lempa said Friday that the group has not yet met his expectations.

"I think we started out really well," he said. "We did very well the first few practices understanding basic concepts and now we're doing a lot of different things and we're seeing a lot of different things and we just have to do a better job adjusting to that."

It's an on-going process and Lempa said "the program isn't printed yet." There's plenty of time for some of the younger guys to step up, especially sophomore speedster Anthony Wiseman. Freshman Michael Carter has impressed as well. There's a bevy of talent with which to work with, and according to Barnes, Lempa can make the group special.

"He told us that his fastest DB [at Boston College] was 4.7 [in the forty], and we got at least five, six guys that run under 4.4 in the secondary," Barnes said. "So I mean he feels like he's in a goldmine and if he can teach 4.7 guys to break on the ball and make plays like that then it shouldn't be a problem for us."

Success is a two-way street. Lempa needs some talent to be successful, and that talent needs to be coached. So far, it's apparent that the right coach is in place.

"Coach Lempa's the man, first and foremost," Gardner said. "With [graduate assistant] Dennard Wilson, it's a monster. You got both of them as a tag-team, so there's no reason why we can't be the best."

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