- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

Maryland freshman Jeremy Navarre’s gamble is looking more like a sure thing. After hoping to become the Terps’ reserve fullback, Navarre will start at defensive end.

Navarre sacrificed his final high school semester and a bid for a third straight Maryland prep wrestling title to participate in spring drills. He had his sights set on making the third-string scout team. However, the nation’s No.2-rated prep fullback didn’t fare well offensively and switched to defense despite even longer odds of making the team.

Fortunately, those hands that regularly took down opposing wrestlers soon manhandled offensive tackles, making Navarre the sleeper of camp.

“Fullback might have been safer, but my heart wasn’t in it,” Navarre said. “I got the itch [to play defense] again. I thought I would have a lot more fun. Making a tackle is a lot more natural to me. I didn’t know I would do as well as I have.”

Navarre was among six starters named yesterday for the opener against Navy on Sept.3. Kicker Dan Ennis, running back Mario Merrills, center Ryan McDonald, strong safety Milton Harris and fullback Ricardo Dickerson also earned starting roles, but Navarre was the only freshman named.

Navarre remains too small at 255 pounds despite adding 15 since spring. However, he’s a natural brawler at a position that requires toughness and speed. He has gotten into fights during practice and used his wrestling moves to take down linemen.

“It’s instinct,” he said. “I get my hands up there and try to toss them. Wrestling three years definitely paid off.”

Said coach Ralph Friedgen: “From the first day he was there he looked so much more comfortable. When he gets his hands on you, he’s really strong. He was throwing [6-foot-9, 330-pound Jared] Gaither around. He got in a fight one day and went into some kind of hold and pinned the guy.”

George Navarre was Joppatowne High’s first state wrestling champion in 1981. Jeremy Navarre went one better than his father, taking the 215-pound crown as a sophomore in 2003 and the heavyweight title in 2004. Both were also National Scholar Athletes.

“[Dad] was a real good athlete,” Navarre said. “I guess I have it in my genes.”

Terps tight end Vernon Davis spent the last two years practicing against defensive end Shawne Merriman, who was taken 12th overall in the NFL Draft in April. He hasn’t received too much of a breather against Navarre in recent weeks.

“Jeremy’s real aggressive,” Davis said. “He doesn’t stop going. You have to get leverage on him first. If he takes off before you it’s hard to get him.”

A handful of freshmen annually surrender their final months of high school hoping to play right away at Maryland. However, the move rarely results in a starting role. Friedgen said Navarre probably wouldn’t be starting if he hadn’t arrived early. Starting college in the second semester without the 20-hour weekly commitment to practice and games helps students get better acclimated.

“There’s less pressure on them,” Friedgen said. “The [older players], instead of making them prove themselves, take them under their wing. I see a different approach than when they come in the fall.”

Navarre still attended his high school prom and graduation. But the rest of school wasn’t a big loss to him.

“In the end you have to grow up a little bit,” he said. “This was a lot more important to me. I enjoyed 31/2 years of high school and I accomplished what I wanted to so it was time to move on.”

Note — Defensive tackle Robert Armstrong has missed two straight practices. The one-time expected starter has missed most of camp because of back problems.

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