- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

Chris Downs was trembling as he walked into the room full of reporters. The Maryland tailback took a deep breath to gather himself after sitting down. Talking with the media was the latest installment in a wild week for the fifth-year senior, who went from a little-known role player on special teams to the Terrapins' starting tailback.

The 5-foot-8, 193-pound tailback ran the ball on the first five plays against Akron last Saturday and finished with 12 carries for 61 yards and a touchdown. Yesterday coach Ralph Friedgen said he expects Downs to start again tomorrow night when fifth-ranked Florida State visits Byrd Stadium.

It is quite a change for Downs, who was fourth string in the preseason and moved up to the No.3 spot when Bruce Perry suffered a torn groin. Downs played little and didn't have a carry in the season-opening loss to Notre Dame. He was essentially an insurance policy while Jason Crawford and Mario Merrills split the tailback chores. Downs got the word during practice last week that he would start against Akron.

"I was shocked," said Downs, who had four carries for 14 yards last season. "I was nervous. I was happy. All that stuff just rolled into one. There were a lot of times I sat down and questioned, 'Would I ever have to chance to go out there and show them what I can do?'"

Friedgen termed the switch "a battlefield promotion" because Downs was able to execute during a troublesome practice.

"We were struggling out there, and he was still playing good," Friedgen said. "I just made my mind up that this is the way I want it done."

The coach said Downs earned another start this week because he had the best week of practice and the 23-year-old has the most experience. Friedgen plans to play all three tailbacks again. Merrills had 79 yards on 17 carries and Crawford 27 yards on six against Akron.

Philadelphia native Downs began his career at Valley Forge Military Academy and College, rushing for 2,013 yards at the Wayne, Pa., school. He transferred to Maryland in 2000, sat out his first season and earned a regular role on special teams last year.

"It's changed a little bit," he said. "People at my classes see me and say, 'Hey, you're that Downs kid.'"

Downs will probably fade back to anonymity with the return of Perry, which could happen next week. But meanwhile, chalk one up for the forgotten man and consummate team player who will start on national television.

"I liked his enthusiasm, his exactness," Friedgen said. "I talked to him before [last weeks] game because I knew he was nervous. I said, 'Just play the way you have been practicing.' That's what he did. I feel good about that. I feel good about the kid earning his right."

Speaking the truth

Although many Maryland players downplayed this week's challenge, giving Florida State the "it's just the next game" speech, Terps defensive coordinator Gary Blackney gave a more candid answer: "I don't think you treat this game as any other game. I think it is a very special game."

Blackney said the game brought to mind the intensity when he was involved with one of college football's greatest rivalries.

"It does have championship implications," he said. "To me, this would be like when I coached at Ohio State, this would be Michigan week. That's what I feel like right now. I feel like I'm on cloud nine. This is a great, great challenge."

Extra points

Receiver Rich Parson (rib strain) is expected to play, while reserve defensive end Landon Jones (shoulder) is likely to be a game-day decision. Junior Andrew Smith will be the nickel back as Ty Stewart misses a second game with a groin pull.

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