- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

A clap of thunder cut short Maryland's football picture day at Byrd Stadium yesterday. The rain that followed chased the players back to the locker room, and promised to cool off the heat wave that has enveloped the area.

Some in College Park claimed that the Terrapins' new coach, Ralph Friedgen, orchestrated the downpour as a sign of better things to come. The heat has been on the Terps' program in recent years their last bowl game was in 1990 and Friedgen was hired to end the drought as it enters its second decade.

The Terps have just two winning seasons and no more than victories in any of the last 15 years under Joe Krivak, Mark Duffner and Ron Vanderlinden.

However, those in the program say things will be different with Ralph the Rainmaker an alumnus back in town.

"Coach Friedgen is the answer," said Aaron Thompson, a senior linebacker. "He was the University of Maryland's blessing. He's an offensive genius. He's a coach that all players love playing for. He has a great history of winning, and he's already given us great confidence."

Friedgen was an assistant for 33 years, including five at Maryland under Bobby Ross in the 1980s. He was the offensive coordinator when the San Diego Chargers reached the Super Bowl in 1994 and the offensive mastermind of Georgia Tech's national championship team in '90 (both under Ross). Even so, he was left wondering if he would ever get a head-coaching gig. That changed when Maryland made the Georgia Tech assistant its first choice after Vanderlinden was fired following his fourth straight losing season.

"The time is here," Friedgen said during Maryland's annual Media Day. "I'm excited about it. I have waited a long time for it."

Terps fans know how he feels, because they've been waiting a long time for a winner.

The last time Maryland had a successful program was when Friedgen was offensive coordinator in 1985 and the Terps won the ACC title, posted a 9-3 record, gained a Cherry Bowl win over Syracuse and finished 18th in the final Associated Press poll.

The Terps conduct their first full-squad practice this morning in preparation for their season opener three weeks from today against North Carolina at Byrd. Friedgen, who will implement a complicated offensive system, already has gained attention for his strict discipline and vigorous approach to offseason conditioning workouts.

And that will be the foundation on which he builds as Friedgen takes control of a program that is low on morale after consecutive 5-6 seasons. He had limited time to recruit, so his coaching staff spent much of its time conditioning players already in the program. He says the returning players average six pounds more than last season and many are considerably stronger. However, the coach realizes the biggest challenges won't be physical ones.

"I'm going to brainwash them," he said. "I'm going to show them we can be good… . What's the difference? Right here [pointing to his head]. It's how you perceive yourself."

In addition to an energetic new coach, Maryland returns 16 starters from last season.

Quarterback Shaun Hill leads eight returners on offense, including the entire starting offensive line and top receiver Guilian Gary. The Terps will be looking for a tailback to replace LaMont Jordan, the program's all-time leading rusher. That race is wide open among returnees Marc Riley, Bruce Perry, Chris Downs and true freshmen Jason Crawford and Mario Merrills.

Friedgen describes his creative offense as "eclectic." Players see it as a major evolution from the Vanderlinden era.

"The last playbook we had was like a high school playbook compared to this," said Gary, who had 568 yards receiving and seven touchdowns last season. "This is probably the most complex offense you can find. There's no rhyme or reason to it. You can't group plays together. Every play is entirely different."

Seven starters return on defense, spearheaded by leading tackler E.J. Henderson, Thompson and a deep secondary. Leon Joe goes into fall camp at starting linebacker at the spot previously occupied by Marlon Moye-Moore, who is suspended until criminal charges against him are settled. The biggest hole is on the line, where 6-foot-2, 290-pound nose tackle Charles Hill will need to fill the void left by Kris Jenkins, who now plays for the Carolina Panthers. True freshman Randy Starks, 6-5 and 290, should help fortify the young line.

Brooks Barnard, the nation's fourth-leading punter with a 44.7-yard average is also back. Vedad Siljkovic and Nick Novak will battle for the kicking job.

The early schedule gives Friedgen a good chance to build his team's confidence. The Terps open against the Tar Heels and new coach John Bunting and then will be a heavy favorite against Eastern Michigan at home. West Virginia and first-year coach Rich Rodriguez then visit Byrd before the Terps travel to ACC lightweight Wake Forest. The Terps play their fifth game at home against Virginia, also in transition under first-year coach Al Groh.

"We have an opportunity early in our schedule to grow," Friedgen said. "But if we're going to be successful, those games in October and November are when we are going to have to be at our best."

The second half of the season is much tougher. The Terps visit Florida State, Georgia Tech and N.C. State and play host to Clemson.

The Terps' hopes of having something to play for later in the season remain high. And as the skies opened over Byrd yesterday, players talked about Friedgen finally harvesting a winning football crop in College Park.

"I just wonder why it took him so long to become a head coach," Shaun Hill said. "I don't know how, but things happen for a reason I guess. Luckily, we were the ones to pick him up."

Notes Linebacker Kevin Bishop will not return for a fifth season. Friedgen said that Bishop, who had been working out with the team this summer, e-mailed him of decision and plans to attend law school. Bishop was a promising starter in 1999 before knee surgery in the offseason. He had not been the same since… .

Reserve offensive tackle Eric Dumas will not practice until an academic situation is cleared up … According to Friedgen, reserve quarterback Chris Kelley, who underwent surgery last week on his left knee after an accident at the beach, could practice in four to six weeks and play in about eight weeks.

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