- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2005

It was 6:30 a.m. one day this summer when Danny Oquendo shuffled into his first meeting as a Maryland football player. It wasn’t long before he received a scathing welcome to just how different the college game is from high school.

“In the meeting, I kind of fell asleep twice, real quick,” Oquendo said. “I was nodding off and then Coach made me stand up for the rest of the meeting. Right then and there, I knew.”

The learning process hasn’t stopped since for Oquendo and the rest of the Terrapins’ freshman wideouts, a highly touted five-man group still adapting to the precision of the collegiate level. And while few will dispute their collective talent, their impact on the Terrapins (4-2, 2-1 ACC) has been relatively modest this season.

Only Oquendo and Isaiah Williams have caught passes entering Thursday night’s meeting with No.3 Virginia Tech (6-0, 3-0), and those came in the fourth quarter of Maryland’s 38-7 rout of Temple on Oct.8.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, the most ballyhooed of a group that also includes probable redshirts Nolan Carroll and Terrell Skinner, appeared briefly against Clemson in Maryland’s second game. However, nagging ankle and wrist injuries have hampered Heyward-Bey, and coach Ralph Friedgen said he likely would pursue a redshirt for him.

The group’s collective struggles come as little surprise in a system as complex as Friedgen’s. There’s learning to run precise routes, picking up the intricate offense and eliminating mental errors that were easily ignored at a lower level but prove costly in college.

“It’s a lot for young men to transfer in my opinion from high school to college,” wide receivers coach Bryan Bossard said. “It’s a pretty sophisticated offense, a pretty sophisticated passing game. There are a lot of things involved.”

However, the presence of three veterans has taken pressure off the freshmen this year. Danny Melendez has become a reliable target for quarterback Sam Hollenbach, catching 24 passes to more than double his career total.

Jo Jo Walker (21 catches) is just as consistent and has caught a pass in every game, while Derrick Fenner (18 receptions) remains a downfield threat. The Terps don’t rely on a four-receiver set often, so the opportunities for other players are limited.

“They’re seniors,” said Oquendo, who estimated he will thoroughly understand his position by the end of the season. “They know the system. I’m still learning. It makes no sense to throw me out there when I really wouldn’t even know what to do.”

Oquendo has appeared in every game and is the fourth receiver in the Terps’ four-receiver package, and he also added duties as the second deep man on kickoff returns against Temple. He received extended playing time in the rout, but he dropped a couple of passes against the Owls to go along with a 10-yard reception.

That was as surprising as it was disappointing to a coaching staff accustomed to Oquendo’s reliable play in practice.

“I know I’m better than that,” Oquendo said. “I had a drop against Temple, and that’s not my game right there. I usually catch everything that comes to me. But it’s about experience. Once I get more experience, I’ll be able to display what I do in practice.”

Williams also had his first career catch against Temple, though his performance didn’t meet the expectations of a decidedly confident receiver who “thought I was going to go in there and just blow the game out.”

It was the just latest lesson for Williams.

Leading up to Virginia, it was working against defensive backs who are eager to press. In preparing for Temple, it was learning how to convert routes against a cover-2 scheme.

“It’s just learning the techniques, learning our assignments, learning how to perfect things as Division I college wide receivers,” Williams said. “Basically in high school, there wasn’t really much technique to it. It was pretty much run and jump and just beat the cornerback. I definitely think our time is going to come. We’re all being very patient right now, and as soon as we get a full grasp on this whole offense, we’re going to be stars.”

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