- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

MIAMI The Maryland Terrapins left the Sunshine State in gloomy states of mind yesterday afternoon. The Terps' flight home was delayed nearly two hours as they waited for a flight crew to arrive from Atlanta, giving them extra time to digest the bitter loss from the night before.

"I'm just ready to go home," said linebacker Aaron Thompson, one of 19 Maryland seniors whose career ended at Pro Player Stadium. "I'm tired. It was a long trip, a disappointing loss. I'm ready to go home."

The sting of Florida's 56-23 drubbing in Wednesday's Orange Bowl was still fresh as players waited among the palm trees outside their beachfront hotel to board buses for the airport. The Terps (10-2) reached new heights this season with their first ACC title in 16 seasons and first New Year's bowl in a quarter-century, but that success couldn't mask the most recent disappointment.

"It will probably mean more down the road," said Tony Jackson, a senior safety. "We're trying to get this bad taste out of our mouths right now. Maybe later we can sit back and reflect on the year."

In the final game of his college career, Jackson played only about a quarter and a half because of a bum ankle.

"It was painful last night, but so was the game," the All-ACC safety said.

While many dealt with an Orange Bowl hangover, the coaching staff immediately began pointing toward next season. There will be recruits on campus this weekend as Maryland looks to shore up several positions most notably at quarterback, linebacker and in the secondary.

There is no heir apparent to senior quarterback Shaun Hill, who made second-team All-ACC and was a steady leader. The Terps are returning three inexperienced contenders in Latrez Harrison, Chris Kelley and Scott McBrien, who sat out this season after transferring from West Virginia. Orlando Evans, who will be on campus this spring after transferring from an Oregon junior college, also will compete.

"I don't know if anybody is going to be ready enough to beat Notre Dame," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, whose Terps open with the Irish in the Kickoff Classic in late August. "I just don't know where we're at at quarterback. … If Latrez is not our quarterback, we have to get him into the game. He is too good an athlete to be sitting behind whoever's starting."

Harrison could be moved to receiver or the secondary, where the Terps lose three starters in safeties Randall Jones and Jackson and cornerback Tony Okanlawon. Another rebuilding spot is at linebacker, where Thompson and all the top reserves have finished their careers. There is also a question of whether junior All-American E.J. Henderson will leave for the NFL. That decision must be made by Jan.11.

"Right now, I have to factor in that he may [leave]," said Friedgen, who said Henderson should go pro if he is a first-round draft pick. "I don't know if E.J. has totally made his mind up. My advice to E.J. is to wait as long as possible and see who else comes out."

Friedgen said recruiting speed similar to what Florida and Florida State has is the top priority, and he hopes to add depth to make the team complete. Friedgen felt both were crucial factors as the Gators (10-2) routinely beat Maryland's secondary, and allowed the Terps few big plays on offense by quickly closing running gaps and pressuring Hill.

Many Maryland players stayed up late after the game, replaying the nightmare in their heads.

"[Florida quarterback Rex] Grossman did a heck of job putting the ball right where it needed to be," Maryland sophomore cornerback Curome Cox said. "There were a couple plays when I was in position on the ball and it was just thrown perfectly. We were just hoping he might be off or we would make some plays."

Sophomore tailback Bruce Perry is convinced this is not a "one-year wonder" and the Terps will contend for the ACC title and BCS berth next season. Perry, who was limited to 22 yards rushing on 11 carries before re-aggravating a pulled abdominal muscle, will be heavily counted on with a new quarterback. The ACC's Offensive Player of the Year will run behind a line returning four starters, losing All-ACC center Melvin Fowler.

Despite the empty ending, the Terps also had time to reflect on how far they came. They broke a string of five straight losing seasons with their first 10-win season since 1976 and first bowl appearance in more than a decade.

"I have been losing since I've been here," Thompson said. "This year things turned around and I was on the winning side. I know what it's like to be a winner. Losing to Florida, I wish there was something we could do about it. But it's not the end of the world."

And returning Terps plan to remember the Orange Bowl agony and even use it as motivation as they begin offseason workouts later this month.

"The last one is the one you remember the most," Perry said. "We have something to build on."

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