Some dates on the calendar create extra anxiety for a college football coach.
The start of the season. National signing day.
And, for Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, seemingly benign Halloween.
“Glad you told me,” Friedgen said last week, informed of the impending arrival of a holiday he has warily compared to Mardi Gras in recent years.
There will be a curfew tonight. Ditto for dorm checks.
But with a group that might be the most mature of any in Friedgen's eight-year tenure, it might not be necessary - especially since much of the team's core was around the last time the Terps didn't have a game the Saturday after Halloween. That was 2005, when players were in the middle of a fracas outside the Cornerstone Grill and Loft in College Park. Those inside the program still insist no players instigated the problems, instead responding - impulsively if unwisely - to an assault on two teammates.
At the time, it didn't matter and the story centered on the Terps. More importantly, the ensuing suspensions and infighting fractured a team that lost two of its last three to finish 5-6.
“Things are a lot different,” said center Edwin Williams, a redshirt freshman on that team. “When I try to think about this time three years ago, No. 1, I didn't think such an incident could break a team apart. Another thing, I didn't think that team as a whole was as together as this team is.”
In several ways, the response to the incident's negative effects arguably made the program stronger, perhaps imbuing it with traits that helped during trying times the past two years. While not always consistent, the Terrapins displayed resilience last year when they scratched out a bowl berth despite numerous injuries. This season, Maryland (6-2, 3-1 ACC) remains in the conference title chase despite a pair of dispiriting losses that could have - but didn't - lead to collapse.
Some of the credit resides with Kevin Glover, a 15-year NFL veteran and Maryland's director of character education. Hired in 2004 after the Colorado football program's rape scandal, Glover helped Friedgen emphasize priorities within the program while also acting as a mentor.
“Thank God, knock on wood, if you look at our record compared to other schools', it's pretty good,” Friedgen said of the Terps' absence from the police blotter. “And I think Kevin Glover is a major reason for that.”
Glover's local roots, career at Maryland and upstanding reputation in the NFL made him a credible source when he urged players to be “low maintenance and high production.”
“It was more like a process,” senior wideout Danny Oquendo said. “Kevin Glover had meetings with us, and we talked about it. We got closer as a unit, and that process really made us who we are.”
So did growing up. Maryland's roster includes 30 seniors, easily the most under Friedgen. Nine of Maryland's 22 scholarship seniors have graduated and most of the rest are on track to earn a degree by the end of the spring semester.
“They just did an outstanding class of not just doing the right thing off the field, but academically,” Glover said. “A lot of those guys graduated early. I think they set the tone for where they wanted this program to go.”
Of course, they also knew where they didn't want to lead the program either. Much of it ties into the flighty nature of experience; sure, it's nice to have, but it does little good if not utilized properly.
The experience of the Terps' veterans undoubtedly taught them the distinct difference between cornerstone players and Cornerstone players - and how they could steer teammates into the former category.
“We can actually lead off the field because guys actually listen to us,” senior tackle Dane Randolph said. “We get the young guys to go with us. They might be too young to get in some places, and we'll go somewhere else then. We're usually hanging out with the younger guys - unlike before, when we were all by ourselves.”
Holdovers from the 2005 team are acutely aware of how things have changed since then, as well as their responsibility for ensuring history does not repeat. With a Thursday night meeting with Virginia Tech looming, they see no way their teammates will jeopardize a potentially special season with an appearance in downtown College Park on Friday night.
“I don't foresee that,” Williams said. “Let me know [if you do].”
Added Oquendo: “That kind of thing won't ever happen again. We have different types of people on this team ... We have a curfew and everyone's going to respect that.
“I didn't even realize it was Halloween. We're focused on V-Tech.”
Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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