University of Maryland Football Team Leaders Play Pivotal Role in Bid for ACC Title
Saturday, November 22, 2008
The same routine occurs at the Maryland football team's hotel every Friday. Because players are summoned to the dinner line one class at a time, when seniors are called, the largest group of upperclassmen Coach Ralph Friedgen has ever coached rises in unison.
Friedgen looks at them and sees 30 athletes whose talents and potential he never doubted. All along, Friedgen's biggest question about the seniors was whether they believed in themselves as much as he believed in them.
During a season of volatility and tumult, five senior-led moments gave Friedgen his answer and helped change the trajectory of a season that had plenty of opportunities to unravel. Pivotal moments of confrontation and contemplation, both public and private, have set the tone for tonight, when the seniors could lead the Terrapins to the brink of an ACC Atlantic Division title in their Byrd Stadium finale against Florida State.
"You ever hear those things called perfect endings?" senior linebacker Moise Fokou said. "That is what it would be tonight, a perfect ending for our seniors."
'We Cut It Loose'
On the morning of Sept. 13, Fokou and defensive lineman Dean Muhtadi grew concerned. They had listened to their coach's impassioned speech the night before, they had heard teammates talk about regrouping after the embarrassing loss at Middle Tennessee the week before.
But when Fokou and Muhtadi looked around the Byrd Stadium locker room eight minutes before the Terrapins were to charge onto the field to play nationally ranked California, they saw players quietly sitting at lockers, stone-faced, lost in their own iPod worlds.
"There was a somber look," Fokou said. "No one had a smile. No one was excited."
Something had to change, and fast. So Fokou rose and started chanting, "Come on! Wake up!" On the other side of the locker room, Muhtadi stopped listening to his most inspiring song, "My Black Dahlia," and began yelling and punching lockers with his bare fist.
"I lost it," Muhtadi said. "There was some heavy stuff I was hitting. I was so hyped I wouldn't have felt anything even if I broke my hand. Moise and I knew it was too quiet, and we cut it loose."
By the time Friedgen moved himself around the room to shake everyone's hand, the coach's routine was a lost cause. Fokou and Muhtadi had worked their teammates into a frenzy.
"It was electric in there," Fokou said of the mood change shortly before Maryland's 35-27 victory. "We were loose and emotional at the same time. From there, we played one of our best games."