- The Washington Times - Friday, November 26, 2004

They have won two bowl games and an ACC championship, beaten Florida State and re-established Maryland as a respected football program. For 19 Terrapins seniors, today’s finale may cap a losing season, but they say one bad year will not tarnish their legacy.

“If you asked me four years ago if what we accomplished would happen and what I’ve accomplished as an individual player would happen, I would have had no complaints,” receiver Steve Suter said. “You can’t complain now that we’ve had a bad season.”

Maryland (4-6, 2-5 ACC) bids coach Ralph Friedgen’s first crop of four-year players goodbye in today’s season finale against Wake Forest (4-6, 1-6) at Byrd Stadium. Plenty of empty seats are expected for the first time in two years. A fourth-string quarterback will start after a season-long controversy at the position. And the defense comes off its worst beating since the 2001 Orange Bowl.

But several individual stories brighten the end of a disappointing season. Kicker Nick Novak will depart as the ACC’s career leading scorer, while Suter has the most return yards in conference history. Guard C.J. Brooks will make his 51st start, and safety Chris Kelley will leave as a starter after injuries nearly ended the career of the once-heralded prep quarterback. Defensive end Henry Scott has become a scholarship player after working two jobs to pay for his first three seasons.

They will slap the board demanding success above the locker room door and rub Testudo’s nose at the end of the tunnel one last time. It has been a quick end to their long careers.

“It went by like a lightning bolt,” Brooks said. “I wish I had another season.”

Friedgen spent the last few days saying goodbye to seniors, nearly all of whom have their degrees or will graduate soon. They helped Friedgen achieve his lifelong dream of not only becoming a head coach but a successful one.

“I had Domonique Foxworth in, and I told him how much he meant to our football program and how much I appreciated what he’s done on and off the field,” Friedgen said. “I talked to C.J. Brooks about the same thing. I’ll try to talk to most of the seniors before Saturday and tell them how much I’ve enjoyed coaching them. I hope they feel the same way. In many ways, I feel like I’ve let these kids down [this season]. I don’t look at it the other way around. They’ve played hard their whole careers here. We’ve had more good times than bad.”

Several seniors joked of tailgating next fall before games — that is, the ones who don’t figure to reach the NFL. Novak and Brooks have good chances of playing professionally, and a handful of others will get an opportunity as rookie free agents. However, most figure this will be the emotional end of playing football.

“It will be a little overwhelming,” Suter said. “It’s time to move on with my life, but I’ll miss the guys. I can always come back and look at my name on the stadium [among the All-Americans].”

Said Kelley: “It has been so fun. We’ve had a solid defense this year, and it’s been a blast. One thing I’ll miss is the guys, having fun, just hanging around them every day.”

Novak needs three points to become the NCAA’s sixth-leading scorer. Twelve points would propel him to third.

“Making that last one would be nice,” he said. “I’d love to have three 50-yarders. I’ve never done that in a game. Everyone wants to do well.”

It’s not an afternoon of endings for sophomore quarterback Sam Hollenbach, who will make his first start. Maybe some hope can be discovered among the ashes of the ruined season.

“It would make a nice story — a kid who hung in there, persevered, didn’t get down,” Friedgen said. “Now it’s one thing to come in and mop up and another to start. The guys rally around him, and if he can get off to a good start and get some momentum he can play well.”

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