- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2007

There were times this winter when it seemed Danny Oquendo and Richard Taylor were always on the run — not that it wasn’t welcome.

Oquendo and Taylor moonlighted after football season with the Terrapins’ track and field program, competing throughout the indoor season before spring practice began.

And while they won’t participate in this weekend’s ACC outdoor meet at Maryland’s Kehoe Track and Field Complex, the extra work figures to help Oquendo and Taylor (as well as both teams) for some time to come.

“Track is all about running, so of course they’re going to teach you the right way to run, the correct form and arm placement and leg placement,” Oquendo said. “I think that really helped me in the long run. It’s made me a little bit faster.”

That’s welcome news for football coach Ralph Friedgen with potentially vital players in Oquendo, a wideout who was the Terrapins’ primary slot receiver last year, and Taylor, who will compete for a starting cornerback job.

Taylor ran sprints for the second straight year and was enjoying a solid spring before suffering a knee injury last week. The work a few months earlier helped Taylor — who considers himself more of a technician than a corner who relies solely on speed — change direction faster and provide an extra burst that could help in the fall.

“Just knowing I wasn’t so worried about getting beat deep, knowing they could break my cushion and I could still have some make up speed,” Taylor said. “I ran with world-class sprinters all winter. Just the confidence that can give you can change your game.”

Oquendo was a hurdler in high school, but he decided against any track work his first season and focused on school and learning the football playbook. This winter, he opted to give it a try.

There was an adjustment period. Maryland track coach Andrew Valmon said in addition to competing for the first time in nearly two years, Oquendo also had to adapt to 42-inch hurdles — three inches higher than in high school.

Then there was the matter of squeezing football, track and academic responsibilities into a hectic schedule.

“A lot of times, I’d have to run out to the track and then run back to the complex to get a lift in and then have meetings after that,” Oquendo said. “It was really tough, but the weekends were really fun with the track meets and the chance to compete.”

Their presence provided a lift to Maryland’s track program, which is trying to climb into the top half of the ACC. The Terps won every conference outdoor title from 1956 to 1980 but suffered severe scholarship cuts and haven’t finished better than seventh since 1989.

Valmon, whose scholarship allotment has risen from three to more than eight in his four years at Maryland, has encouraged football players to help his team before. Former cornerback Gerrick McPhearson anchored the 400-meter relay team that won at the IC4A outdoor meet two years ago, and Josh Wilson competed last year.

Their presence permits some of Valmon’s best athletes to concentrate on specific events and maximize point totals rather than spreading them out. In return, Friedgen receives a faster player.

“Ralph went to school here, and he was here when Maryland was the big dog,” Valmon said. “He was here when we won 25 straight ACC championships. Given that, he knows the value of where we were and where we need to be. As a student-athlete and knowing track guys, he has a fond appreciation because he’s an alum and knows where I’m trying to get us back to.”

Valmon also understands Friedgen’s priority is winning football games and can release his players only at certain times. Friedgen said yesterday that because freshman Emani Lee-Odai has a wrist injury, Oquendo will be needed for tomorrow’s scrimmage.

Taylor plans to spend time cheering the track team when he isn’t busy with football duties during the conference meet. Working with one sport makes him appreciate the other even more, and he’s savored the opportunity to know people in both programs.

“You get love on both sides,” Taylor said. “Of course, in track there are women, so that’s an added dimension. Just to have two sets of teammates to go to and two support systems has been tremendous.”

Note — Friedgen said safety J.J. Justice has a pulled hamstring.


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