- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sam Hollenbach was just thankful to receive an opportunity when he took over at quarterback in the fourth quarter of Maryland’s embarrassing loss at Virginia Tech last November.

Little did he — or anyone else — realize he wouldn’t relinquish the position.

Once almost an afterthought in Maryland’s program, Hollenbach is now entrenched as a starter after a string of efficient outings to start the season. Tomorrow, he’ll receive a second chance against the Hokies, this time in the starting role he worked so long to earn.

“I don’t know if I’d be here without us getting beat like that,” Hollenbach said. “I don’t know how to feel about that.”

Others do. Hollenbach’s rise from third-stringer to All-ACC candidate in less than a year stabilized Maryland’s offense and positioned the Terrapins (4-2, 2-1 ACC) to return to the postseason after a one-year hiatus. He has thrown for at least 200 yards in every game and leads the ACC with 264.3 total yards a game.

Those numbers are borderline shocking for a player who before his garbage time audition was buried on the depth chart and had one career passing attempt.

Hollenbach was under little pressure to play well against the Hokies, entering with Terps trailing 55-3. He followed Joel Statham and Jordan Steffy, who were chased because of ineffectiveness and injury, respectively, and was 5-for-8 for 53 yards in what wound up a 55-6 shellacking.

With the Terps’ postseason hopes dashed and Steffy still injured, coach Ralph Friedgen started Hollenbach in the season finale. Hollenbach helped the Terps escape with a victory over Wake Forest, but he considered transferring because of his uncertain future. After nearly a month of consideration, Hollenbach informed Friedgen on Dec. 25 he would remain in College Park.

“It was kind of a nice Christmas present,” Friedgen said.

Hollenbach all but won the starting job in the spring, and he worked with offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe throughout the offseason to reconstruct his release to boost his accuracy.

Yet all along, Hollenbach was studious, tucking away mental notes through years of meetings. The mechanical engineering major is using the same work ethic this season, usually arriving after classes at the team house around 1:30 p.m. to watch film before going out to practice, eating dinner and then going home to do homework and unwind.

“He’s finding he can be a very good quarterback at this level,” Taaffe said. “A year ago at this time, there was probably some doubt or some question he could be this type of quarterback.”

Hollenbach doesn’t suffer from such worries now. Offensive linemen appreciate his willingness to wait until the last moment to release a ball, even if he takes a hit. He’s also decisive with his play-calling and the rapid choices he must make in the pocket.

His improved accuracy also has helped, especially with his veteran-laden receiver corps. Hollenbach shakes off his few bad plays, relying on his calm personality to keep the Terps moving. He engineered a game-winning drive in the closing minutes of the season opener against Navy, and he has thrown only one interception after halftime all season.

“He’s very confident, and that’s the important thing,” senior receiver Derrick Fenner said. “Sam is just so confident, and it makes the players around him confident, such as receivers. We know we’re going to make a play just by him being confident, just by him motivating us.”

Hollenbach savors his success with a mix of humility, appreciation and amusement. He grinned widely as he waded through the crowd after the Terps’ Oct. 1 upset of Virginia at Byrd Stadium as fans chanted his name, and the fourth-year junior is still getting used to random people coming up to him on campus and starting conversations.

An anonymous quarterback is a rare thing on a good team, and Hollenbach’s profile would expand significantly if the Terps were to upset the third-ranked Hokies. Hollenbach, though, couldn’t have envisioned this during his days as a third-stringer.

“This was the furthest thing from mind last year,” Hollenbach said. “I wouldn’t have dreamt this. It’s really been a crazy ride since last year. It’s crazy what can happen in a year.”

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