- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

Massive Maryland freshman Randy Starks relaxed in the shade following the first practice of his college career yesterday morning. A sweltering heat greeted the 24 Terps' newcomers as they got a sampling of what's to come when veterans return for the first full-squad practice Saturday.

Starks doesn't look like an average freshman. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive tackle dwarfed his fellow rookies, which include 18 other scholarship freshmen and five walk-ons. The 17-year-old Starks is being counted on more than many of his classmates as the program hopes to end a bowl drought that is entering a second decade.

The Terps are particularly vulnerable on the defensive line after graduating Kris Jenkins, a second-round draft pick by the Carolina Panthers who anchored their line. There is no question Starks has the body to fill the gaping hole. The question is how long it will take to get his skills to match it.

"The biggest concern I have about interior linemen is are they big and strong enough?" said Maryland's Ralph Friedgen, who opened his first fall camp as a coach after years as an assistant. "He benched 390 [pounds] today. I think he is strong enough. Now I just have to see if he is mature enough to handle the situation."

Starks, a blue-chip recruit out of Westlake High School in Waldorf, Md., is one of a handful of true freshmen likely to compete for either starting or primary backup spots. Freshman tailbacks Jason Crawford (Parkdale High School, Fork Union Military Academy) and Mario Merrills (Wilde Lake High School) are competing for a starting position with unproven returnees Marc Riley and Bruce Perry. The slot is open because the school's all-time leading rusher, New York Jets second-round pick LaMont Jordan, finished his eligibility last season.

"I think both [Crawford and Merrills] had a burst today and did some good things," said Friedgen, who noted Merrills came to camp in better shape than Crawford. "Mario caught the ball better today than I thought he would."

Raheem Lewis, a 6-3, 335-pound offensive guard from Suitland High School, and 6-3, 260-pound defensive tackle Akil Patterson (Frederick High School) are contenders to be primary backups.

Friedgen made practice an hour earlier yesterday morning to help offset the effects of the heat and put newcomers through conditioning tests with repeated 100-yard dashes.

The players lifted weights earlier in the morning, and Starks showed off his power. Friedgen believes it's a good sign when true freshmen can bench 300 pounds, and the coach said 11 or 12 newcomers achieved that mark. Starks, who lived in College Park all summer and trained with the Terps, cleared 390.

"I think I'm strong enough to play," said Starks, whose final college choices were Penn State, Syracuse and Maryland. "I have the size for it. Most freshmen coming in don't have the size or strength to make an impact. I think I have both. Hopefully, I can use them to my advantage."

The new Terps will have two practices again today as coaches evaluate immediate impact players from redshirt candidates. Friedgen remembers when all freshmen sat out their first season and likes the idea of players having to acclimate to college life before playing on the varsity.

But times have changed, and freshmen are vital because teams are limited to 85 players on scholarships. Friedgen estimates that 10 or 12 true freshmen played each of the last three seasons at Georgia Tech.

"You just need them. You don't have enough kids," the former Yellow Jackets offensive coordinator said. "I don't know if it's possible or not [for any of these freshman to contribute]. If it is, we are certainly going to play a freshman if he is capable."

Notes Merrills, who is 5-10 and 180 pounds, also will compete on special teams to return kicks. He rushed for 1,743 yards and 21 touchdowns for Wilde Lake in Howard County last season… .

The 6-2, 215-pound Crawford ran for 1,610 yards at Parkdale his senior season in 1999 and saw limited play at Fork Union, a prep school, last year… .

Though Friedgen tried to counter temperatures well into the 90s by making practice earlier and allowing players plenty of water breaks, the coach did not take any added measures in light of recent football players' heat-related deaths.

"When I was on the field [as a player], nobody got water breaks, and it was just as hot," said Friedgen, who played quarterback and offensive guard for Maryland in the late 1960s. "You have to play with it. That's why you have to be in good condition coming into camp."

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