- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 3, 2005

Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen, the winningest coach in ACC history over his first three years, feels he still has a lot to prove entering tonight’s season opener against Navy at Baltimore’s M&T; Bank Stadium.

The Terrapins’ drastic slide to 5-6 last year brought criticism Friedgen had lived off his predecessor’s recruiting and couldn’t win without a proven passer. The unprecedented string of 10- or 11-win seasons was forgotten amid turnovers that stalled the offense and left Maryland without a bowl bid for the first time since Friedgen’s arrival.

The coach responded by working so hard during the offseason that vertigo and a sleep disorder bedeviled him during exhausting recruiting trips. He met the team in the weight room at 5:30 a.m. on a regular basis. Every formation of the 1,200-page playbook was reviewed.

The grueling offseason might have been worth it. The Terps appear to have found a sleeper in quarterback Sam Hollenbach. The freshman class includes defensive end Jeremy Navarre, who was rated among the nation’s top incoming players, plus several receivers sure to produce in coming years. The Terps might still be a year away from truly competing for the ACC title, but Friedgen is ready now for redemption.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to get back on the field,” said Friedgen, his voice cracking with emotion. “We have to come back out and re-establish ourselves and get some respect. I don’t know about [the players], but I’m ready to go.”

He will get his wish tonight when Maryland meets Navy for the first time in 40 years. Friedgen was a Terps guard in the freshman game on the eve of the final varsity game in 1965. He knows the 100-year-old series was bitter before an obscene gesture by a Terps linebacker effectively ended the in-state rivalry. And the passage of four decades hasn’t dulled the passion between schools.

“We played them in lacrosse, and it was a rivalry,” Friedgen said. “If we played them in anything, it was a rivalry. We want to win this game because of the rivalry.”

Friedgen acknowledges being nervous. The Terps are awfully young. Hollenbach has one career start. The offensive line has three members starting for the first time and two with a half-season experience each. The backfield is new. So are most of the defensive line, secondary and special teams.

Gloria Friedgen noticed her husband was out of sync the other morning. Maybe it was just jitters, though seemingly no more so than past years. Friedgen worries about everything. That was endearing when the Terps won but was considered a weakness last year.

“I guess I haven’t been quite myself at home,” Friedgen said. “I am nervous. I don’t know quite what to expect from this football team. I don’t know how they’re going to respond because of their youth. There’s a lot of unknowns going in here.”

The Terps practiced at M&T; last night to acclimate themselves to the slight difference between a college and pro field. Friedgen wanted the team to get comfortable in the final hours. Maybe he wanted to feel that way, too. Thirty-six years of coaching doesn’t prevent jitters each fall.

Defensive coordinator Gary Blackney understands. He has spent 35 years along the sideline, the last four with Friedgen. Blackney no longer lies awake at night but knows the feeling of exhaustion that haunted Friedgen. No one is going to sleep well until the season’s sixth triumph, which would ensure another winning year.

“When you work 16 hours a day, you sleep pretty well.” Blackney said, “[But] I can honestly say when I was younger, I probably would have had some sleepless nights. I’m thinking about [Navy’s] offense all the time.”

Navy coach Paul Johnson downplayed the rivalry in recent days, saying the Terps were at best fourth on the Midshipmen’s schedule behind Army, Air Force and Notre Dame. Friedgen counts Navy as his top priority, though.

“I don’t rank them,” he said. “The next one is always important. This is the next one.”

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