Despite Youth, Terps Approach Season With Confidence
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Jamari McCollough fully appreciated the unique makeup of this year's Maryland football team only when the Terrapins climbed the Byrd Stadium steps Monday to assemble for team pictures, with each class in a different row. The defensive back looked left and right and saw only a handful of other seniors. He then looked behind him to see the other 88 percent of his team, all underclassmen.
"It was a big difference," said McCollough, one of only 14 seniors on Maryland's roster. "I remember in the past looking down and seeing like 25 seniors in the row."
The reason that expectations are low for Maryland -- this summer, ACC media members predicted the Terrapins will finish fifth in the Atlantic Division -- has little to do with talent or coaching and a lot to do with the fact that ninth-year Coach Ralph Friedgen will field one of the youngest teams in the country this season.
It's not only that Maryland returns just 10 starters, the fewest in the ACC. It's also that the returning Terrapins have only 133 combined starts under their belts -- only Army has fewer (126) among division I-A teams. And 58 of Maryland's 85 scholarship players have at least three years of eligibility remaining.
Players and coaches opened camp Monday with a lengthy meet-and-greet media session in which they talked about patience, energy and consistency after an 8-5 season that included several peaks and valleys. Veterans were reluctant to dwell on the past, but some, including McCollough, said that having 30 seniors on last year's team may have been detrimental because there were too many competing voices.
"There was too many people trying to take that role and be leaders," he said. "Now that we have a smaller group, it will be a stronger bond. We have a senior at each position who plays a major role."
Friedgen remains enthused about the talent level at several positions, notably wide receiver, where he said he would feel comfortable playing any one of nine players. But outsiders have noted that none of the wide receivers is a senior, and none is Darrius Heyward-Bey, the speedy playmaker selected seventh in the NFL draft.
And coaches know that at 6 feet 7 and 310 pounds, hulking left tackle Bruce Campbell is among the strongest players in school history (he bench-presses 490 pounds) and will be coveted by NFL personnel in years to come. But Campbell, a junior who has started eight games in his career, is also viewed as one-fifth of a revamped offensive line that will be one of Friedgen's biggest concerns.
Campbell shook his head at the criticism of the team's experience. He said graduate assistants have occasionally taped papers to players' lockers, detailing slights -- be it by analysts, other players, anybody -- maligning the team's youth and inexperience.
Campbell pulled one off his locker, a list of preseason first-team all-ACC offensive players. Scribbled next to it was this: "No respect. Where is Maryland? Win the ACC and we will have multiple first-team all-ACC players. They don't respect us and won't until we win, and win big."
Campbell and others said such disrespect is a great motivator, a sentiment expressed during the team's meeting with Friedgen on Sunday night.
"You can't count a team out on age," Campbell said. "Age is just a number. There are a lot of young stars. If people think of us as inexperienced, I'll perform 10 times better in practice or the weight room just because of that."
Senior quarterback Chris Turner, who jokingly referred to himself as "the old man," said many of the team's young players -- such as sophomore wide receivers Torrey Smith and Ronnie Tyler -- have experience. Tyler finished sixth on the team in receptions (20) and fifth in receiving yards (225) last season. Smith set the ACC's single-season record for kickoff return yards and averaged a school-record 21.3 yards every time he touched the ball.
"Before I was like, it's not a big deal, we're always picked in the same spot," Turner said. "This year is kind of different. There is a lot of negative publicity. People are actually counting us out. If anyone takes us lightly, they are going to be rudely awakened."