- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2006

ORLANDO, Fla. — There were plenty of reasons for Darrius Heyward-Bey to smile Friday night after Maryland’s 24-7 Champs Sports Bowl rout of Purdue.

The Terrapins had just authored their best performance of the season and administered a thorough bowl bludgeoning after two years away from the postseason stage. But the prospect of more — many more — victories like it in the coming years was just as satisfying.

The victory provided a fitting sendoff to veterans like quarterback Sam Hollenbach, cornerback Josh Wilson and tackle Stephon Heyer, all of whom watched the program yo-yo from a New Year’s Day appearance to the oblivion of consecutive 5-6 seasons and back to bowl domination. However, it also provided a window into what Maryland could enjoy in the future.

Heyward-Bey has three years of eligibility left, and fellow wide receivers Danny Oquendo and Isaiah Williams have two each. Freshman fullback Cory Jackson had four carries and scored his first touchdown. Linebacker Erin Henderson, whose jarring third-quarter hit forced the fumble that led to an insurance field goal, is only a redshirt sophomore.

“Our confidence is just way up going into next year,” Heyward-Bey said after he capped an impressive redshirt freshman season with a 46-yard touchdown reception. “Even with spring ball coming up, we’re just sky high right now. Nobody’s bringing us down.”

The Terps will endure a far different offseason than their two immediate predecessors. There won’t be endless questions about returning to a bowl after a disappointing season, no growing grumblings about the program’s direction.

Instead, Maryland will enjoy the bounce from a 9-4 record and a deconstruction of the Boilermakers and carry it until spring practice starts in three months and through to when the 2007 season commences in September.

“I’ve heard a lot of comments of ‘We want to come back to a bowl, we want to do better, we’re going to build on this,’ ” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “That’s refreshing to me as a head coach. I want kids who want to go to a bowl. It’s always a lot more enjoyable when you win the bowl.”

Maryland has won its last three postseason games, but the latest was especially sweet because of the miserable two-year interregnum. Friday’s thrashing not only was the first time the Terps throttled and outgained a Division I-A opponent but also was a hint of what they could do in the future.

“Hopefully, it’s going to go on the up-and-up,” Heyer said. “This is just the beginning. I hope I pass the torch on to the younger guys and the work ethic and the hard work that we do on and off the field [leads] to better things, maybe championships, maybe NCAA championships.”

There are, of course, questions to sort out before next season. Hollenbach, the Champs Sports Bowl MVP after a decisive 15-for-24, 223-yard, two-touchdown performance, will be gone, and along with him will be two seasons worth of starts and experience and a steady and calming influence on the offense.

Friedgen insists rising junior Jordan Steffy will enter the spring as the No. 1 quarterback. Steffy, though, has taken 14 snaps the last two seasons, all in a season-opening rout of William & Mary, and will have to compete with athletic Florida transfer Josh Portis.

Either way, Maryland will rely on a quarterback with minimal experience, a situation that didn’t end well for the program in 2004 and 2005.

There also will be some rebuilding on the offensive line. Heyer and left guard Donnie Woods will depart, and right tackle Jared Gaither has submitted paperwork to the NFL seeking an evaluation of his draft status. If he leaves, the Terps’ already tenuous line depth will take a hit.

Junior defensive tackle Dre Moore also has requested an evaluation and has not made a decision, yet much of the often-maligned unit that held Purdue to 21 yards rushing will be back. There are obvious losses — Wilson, in particular, will be difficult to replace — but the bowl victory provides some hope Maryland can sustain its success in the coming years.

“We looked at it as the first game of next year. It’s not the last game of the season, but the first game of next year,” Henderson said. “Now we’re going to have that confidence, and a lot of people are going to realize they’re more than capable of coming out and playing Division I football, and I think that’s going to make a big difference going into the offseason.”

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