- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 6, 2002

Shawne Merriman remembers thinking how great it was to play in front of 4,100 fans in a high school playoff game. The Maryland freshman's first taste of college football might be as a starting linebacker on a Top 25 team playing Notre Dame in a packed NFL stadium on national television.

"I can't even imagine it still, to come out in front of 80,000 with all those people yelling and screaming," said Merriman, a blue-chip recruit out of Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro. "To start would be icing on the cake. That's what I'm shooting for."

The sculpted 6-foot-3, 245-pound linebacker was one of 27 Terrapins newcomers who arrived on campus yesterday, picked up their dorm keys, took physicals and collected helmets and shoulder pads. The 25 freshmen including six walk-ons and two transfers will practice by themselves until the full squad comes on Friday.

But few of the new players' arrivals were as highly anticipated as Merriman, who will compete for the vacant starting spot of rush linebacker. Merriman chose Maryland because he felt there was a good chance he would play immediately, and there is a good chance he will see significant action when the Terps open Aug.31 against Notre Dame in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium.

"He's a man," Terps defensive coordinator Gary Blackney said. "From a physical point of view, he's there. We'll have to see if he can handle it mentally. The toughest part is adjusting to the college passing game."

Merriman still sees himself as an 18-year-old trying to prove he belongs. Others view him as a man-child.

"They tell me I'm lying every time I tell someone my age," said Merriman, who also played tight end, punter and kick returner in high school. "They think I stayed back a year in high school and I went to [junior college] for two years and I finally came [to Maryland]."

The position of rush linebacker opened when starter Mike Whaley left school for academic reasons during the offseason. Merriman will challenge sophomore Jamal Cochran and perhaps fellow true freshman Randy Earle for the starting spot.

Earle may not be at the top of the depth chart in the opener, but he is getting the most attention. The Long Island native was interviewed by ESPN for a story about how he overcame tragic circumstances. Earle was born prematurely at 3 pounds and addicted to crack, because of his mother's drug use. Both of his parents died of AIDS, as did two siblings who were born HIV positive.

Earle, who is 6-3, 230 pounds, could see more repetitions as the season goes along and he gets stronger. He begins camp slightly behind Merriman and fellow true freshman Reggie Holmes, a 6-1, 235-pounder from Bowie High School who could also find his way on to the two-deep chart at linebacker. That position is particularly vulnerable after losing two starters and all its key reserves. Starters E.J. Henderson and Leon Joe are back, but the other spots are wide open.

Another unit hit hard by graduation is the secondary, which lost both starting safeties and a cornerback. Reuben Haigler, a transfer from Lackawanna (Pa.) Junior College, could bolster the corners as a top backup. And Dunbar High School graduate Marcus Wimbush will compete for time at safety.

Wimbush's debut comes a year late. The 5-foot-11 freshman was one of the nation's top safeties when he was a senior in the fall of 2000, and committed to the Terps when Ron Vanderlinden was coach, spurning offers from Nebraska and Tennessee. But Wimbush was denied entrance last summer by the NCAA Clearinghouse for not having the required SAT scores.

He attended Montgomery College in Takoma Park last year and raised his scores enough to ensure entrance to Maryland in the spring.

Wimbush is angling for playing time as a nickel or dime back in a revamped secondary that likely will start converted cornerback Dennard Wilson at strong safety and Madieu Williams at free safety. Domonique Foxworth, who finished last year as a starter, will be opposite Curome Cox.

The offense doesn't figure to tap deeply into the new class. Freshmen quarterbacks Sam Hollenbach and Joel Statham are expected to redshirt. Others, such as tailback J.P. Humber, hope to gain experience in areas like special teams.

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