- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

Darcel Dobbins moved into his dorm room at the University of Maryland yesterday with football, not classes, on his mind.

Classes don't start until Tuesday, but Maryland will play Notre Dame at 8 p.m. today in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It is the first game ever between the two schools and will be televised on ABC.

Decked out in Maryland gear from head to toe, Darcel, 17, from Columbia, Md., was informed during the chaos of moving in that the university would show the game at Byrd Stadium on a big screen for students.

"I'm there, then. Wherever the biggest TV is," he said.

"I'm pumped up and expecting a win. Nothing less," said Darcel, who will major in computer engineering. "If they can pull off a win, they can expect to be able to beat almost anybody."

Steve Leonard, who graduated from Maryland in 1978 and has been a Terrapin Club member for 15 years, was headed to New Jersey yesterday. He and 12 others drove in a van he had custom-ordered to be painted in Maryland colors with "Go Terps" on the side.

"We've had this on our calendar for about a year and a half," said Mr. Leonard, who is the president of a truck and bus distributor. "It's dazzling, it really is. We're moving up to the big time."

Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow, who negotiated for Maryland to appear in the game, said she understands fans' excitement.

"We'd never been in the mix. I think they're proud that we're in the mix," she said.

Tonight's game is the most anticipated opener for Maryland in almost 20 years, after a dramatic turnaround last year from 14 years of disappointing football teams. Coach Ralph Friedgen guided the Terps to a 10-2 record, the Orange Bowl and a top 10 finish, while earning several national coach of the year awards along the way.

"Our fans are excited," Mr. Friedgen said. "Obviously, they're coming to it. This is the second big game they've supported. At the Orange Bowl, I think we had 25,000, 30,000 fans. I think we'll bring that here this week."

Last year's success, said Mr. Friedgen, "changed our expectations."

"When I got Maryland, I felt like we needed to raise our expectations," he said.

Maryland had only two winning seasons from 1987 to 2000, with an overall record of 55-98-2.

The emergence of star players such as senior lineback E.J. Henderson, who was one of three finalists for the Butkus Award for the nation's top linebacker, and running back Bruce Perry, who ran for 1,242 yards, helped the Terrapins to their unexpected success last year.

Fans said the coaching staff had a lot to do with it as well.

"We have the A-team in college coaching right now," Mr. Leonard said. "To see our team putting together a strategic plan for both the games and the overall program for long-term recruiting, it's very exciting."

Mr. Friedgen has also forged a relationship with alumni and the university community, said Linda Clement, the university's vice president for student affairs.

"People feel that the coach and the team are really committed to the school and the program," Mrs. Clement said. "Coach Friedgen has been such a good community citizen that people have such respect for him."

In response, Mr. Leonard said, "People are getting on board in a way that I don't think we've done in the past."

"Yes, we've had some good teams, but I don't think the commitment was made by the students and faculty and administration and alumni like it is now," he said.

There are significant question marks about this year's team, such as whether Scott McBrien or Chris Kelley will play quarterback and who will fill in for Bruce Perry, who is out four to eight weeks with a groin pull.

Still, Maryland fans are looking forward optimistically.

"We're hoping that they're going to be just as good this year if not better," said Adam Goldberg, 18, a freshman from River Edge, N.J.

Mr. Goldberg sat outside the Elkton dormitory with fellow freshman Ankur Thakkar, 18 and also from River Edge. "People are pretty excited," he said.

"Ralph's only been here for a year," Mrs. Yow said. "It's only going to get better. We're in the foundation-laying mode right now."

The massive amount of publicity for the football program feeds the wave of momentum the school is riding after the basketball team's national championship in April.

Applications to the school rose almost 18 percent this year, exceeding 23,000, according to the university. Half of this year's freshman class were in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating classes, and their SAT scores are an average of 25 points higher than last year's.

Ashley Rytter, 18, and Nichole Cohen, 17, both from Baltimore and incoming freshman at Maryland, sat in the North Woods Dining Room yesterday at lunch.

Nichole said she was not a big football fan but had begun watching football a little more because of Maryland's success last year.

"I heard the Maryland football team was pretty good last year, and I'm sure they'll do it again," she said. "It made my dad want me to go."

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