- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2007

PINEHURST, N.C. — Outside of a handful of beat reporters and a couple of other straggling writers, Maryland safety Christian Varner was a bit lonely at the start of an interview session at yesterday’s ACC football kickoff event at Pinehurst Resort.

Elsewhere in the room, players from Florida State were mobbed with questions about a potential bounceback season, a pair of Wake Forest seniors dutifully discussed defending a conference title and veterans from Boston College and N.C. State analyzed their new coaches.

Varner seemed anything but frazzled at the oversight of the Terrapins, who cobbled together a 9-4 record and a Champs Sports Bowl victory a season ago to snap a two-year postseason drought.

Instead, there was a hint of knowing tolerance at the treatment of a team eager to surpass last year’s accomplishments when camp begins in a fortnight.

“We’re always under the radar, and even if we weren’t, we’d take that attitude,” Varner said. “That’s just our mentality. That’s Maryland. People don’t always give us respect. If we win, it’s because of a reason or the point spread wasn’t good or we didn’t beat them by enough. There’s always an excuse. But all we want to do is win.”

While Varner perhaps established a college football record for earliest use of the respect card, there is validity to his point. Maryland’s five-game surge last year nearly always was followed by the caveat of a combined 13-point margin during the stretch, and not a week passed without a mention of the Terps’ 11-game streak of being outgained.

There is no statistical minutiae to trot out now, just a handful of legitimate questions. The hole at quarterback created by Sam Hollenbach’s graduation remains unfilled, with junior Jordan Steffy the nominal No. 1 heading into a camp battle with Florida transfer Josh Portis and sophomore Chris Turner.

Both specialists are also gone, and the defense must compensate for the loss of cornerback Josh Wilson. And, of course, the Terps are seeking a conference title a season after falling one game shy of a divisional crown.

“Whatever anyone wants to put on us is fine, but I think this team has done a good job of understanding what we want,” right guard Andrew Crummey said. “Last year left us with a hunger that we want to rectify and satiate. I think the pressure that matters is the pressure we put on ourselves and on each other, and I think that’s going to produce good results this year.”

Crummey is a cornerstone of a line trying to replace three starters. One of the departed, Jared Gaither, was declared academically ineligible last month and subsequently declared for the NFL supplemental draft.

However, the gargantuan tackle missed all of spring practice while attempting to improve his academic status, providing plenty of time for Scott Burley and Dane Randolph to acclimate themselves as starters. It could alleviate any transition during camp, though Gaither’s loss clearly is a dent in the Terps’ already shallow depth.

“In the wintertime, I don’t think anyone expected him to be back on the offensive line,” Crummey said. “He’s a great player, and he did a great job for us. He and Stephon Heyer were two bookend tackles who had a great year last year, and it’s going to be tough to replace them. But I think we’ve known that we had to replace them.”

The Terps also have not dealt with persistent questions of whether this would be the year they would return to a bowl. Instead of a ceaseless drumbeat of reminders of consecutive 5-6 seasons, attention instead was paid primarily to the quarterback situation.

That is, what little attention Maryland has received — not that it’s a new experience.

“It’s so much more relaxing to go into the season and not have that pressure on you,” Varner said. “It’s just worrying about getting better and doing better than you did the year before.”



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