- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Two years of shaky starts caused Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen to enter summer camp today with a plan to push his youngest team ever harder despite a soft early schedule.

The Terrapins’ favorable schedule could produce a 6-0 start before the Terrapins go on the road to face Clemson, Virginia and Virginia Tech and play Florida State at Byrd Stadium. The less strenuous slate will let Friedgen develop an inexperienced quarterback, offensive and defensive lines and secondary.

Friedgen learned from last year’s 0-2 start not to scale back in August — despite a veteran team that knew the system. Practices that already were considered fast-paced with four levels of contact will include more rougher “thud” sessions before the opener against Northern Illinois on Sept.4.

“You can’t win without mental toughness,” Friedgen said. “When you’re tired, you still have to go. If you’re weak mentally, you can’t get it done. Playing in cold weather, playing when it’s too hot — you can’t sit there and make excuses. You have to work through those things to be successful.”

Maryland’s bid for a school-record fourth straight 10-win season might be the toughest assignment since Friedgen’s 2001 arrival. ACC newcomers Virginia Tech and Miami, which Maryland won’t play until 2006, and a reduced 11-game schedule will turn the conference race into a scramble.

The Terps’ faithful have broken the season-ticket mark (30,700) with three games nearly sold out. Maryland is among five BCS schools to win 10 games in three straight years, but Friedgen hinted expectations of another such autumn might be unrealistic. The Terps went 31-8 with two bowl victories and an ACC title in his first three seasons.

“Anytime you’ve had a 10-win season, you’ve had a great season,” he said. “I think I’ve had six or seven of them in my career, and I’ve coached 35 years. To think we’ll do it every year … I think it gets even tougher now in our conference. Realistically, you have to say, ‘Is it possible?’ You could win the conference this year and not win 10 games.

“Are the goals harder? Yeah, they’re harder, but they’re still goals. Our program is going to get better, too. In my mind, we should be as good as Florida State, so maybe [expansion] helps us get there.”

Maryland is No.20 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Two straight well-regarded recruiting classes have bolstered the Terps’ depth, along with 15 returning walk-ons Friedgen expects to fill gaps. Maryland isn’t conceding it is a rebuilding year even though it returned only 11 starters.

“We deserve the respect of being in the Top 25 every year,” senior safety Domonique Foxworth said. “Heart took us to the top early on because we weren’t as talented, but now we have more confidence. There’s a major difference in the [internal] competition than when I came here.”

The most-watched newcomer will be freshman quarterback Jordan Steffy. Though the Terps plan to open with sophomore Joel Statham, he isn’t a lock for the starting job.

Steffy’s arm strength and mobility seem a perfect fit for Friedgen’s diverse offense and deep receiving corps, but the coach won’t push the newcomer too quickly.

“You know he’s young, but we’ve had kids that played really young,” guard C.J. Brooks said.

Tight end Vernon Davis also could have a bigger role after having just five receptions last year as a freshman. Davis could play four positions, and Friedgen said he would be “disappointed” if the former Dunbar (D.C.) High School standout catches only 30 passes.

“He has that type of ability,” Friedgen said. “His [increased] knowledge determines how much we can use him.”

Kicker Nick Novak will seek some redemption after an inconsistent finish. Maryland’s career scoring leader (324 points) beat N.C. State on a late field goal but missed three extra points in the final two games. Novak and Friedgen said the senior’s poor technique with his plant foot caused problems.

“Nick wanted to know why I didn’t challenge him in the spring,” Friedgen said. “He always waits for me to play mind games with him. He’s waiting for the freeze, and I didn’t freeze him, but I will this fall. I want to get his confidence back.”

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