While the rest of College Park is putting on the tanning lotion and soaking up the rays, Maryland football Coach Bobby Ross is dragging the Terrapins into that dreary routine called spring practice.
With a Sun Bowl trophy in the case and Penn State staring down from the wall, the temptation is to skip the drills and jump right into autumn. The lettering hangs there over the official Maryland football schedule like a flag. It says, "Penn St. in Byrd Stadium, September 7."
The Terrapins, who start spring practice today, are trying valiantly to ignore it, but what that phrase means is the start of their toughest schedule in three years. Ross would like to black it right out.
"I don't want us to get all uptight about the games yet," he said. "We can't be too concerned with playing people. There will be plenty of time to get ready for your Penn States, Clemsons, Miamis and Boston Colleges."
Before all that fun stuff, there'll be a four-day-a-week session of drudgery that will end April 27 with the annual Red-White Game. Only six starters are gone from last season's victorious Sun Bowl team, but they were important ones and Ross will take most of the spring to replace them. Nevertheless, Terrapins football fans are already talking up the Penn State game.
"If anything, Maryland people are making too much out of it," Ross said. "Penn State won't be the whole 1985 season. There isn't any better example of that than last season, when we lost our first two games. I don't mean to downplay the emotion. But there's a time and a place for it. Right now we have to get the hard work done."
Offensively, quarterback Frank Reich, center Kevin Glover and wide receiver Greg Hill are gone. Defensively, linebacker Eric Wilson and cornerback Bob Gunderman departed. So did placekicker Jess Atkinson.
The loss of six starters might not sound like much, but it could make a potentially huge difference. Wilson was the all-time leading tackler for Maryland, Hill led the all-time list in receptions, and Atkinson was the all-time leading kicker. Glover was a dependable three-year starter, and Reich, well, he was Reich, a late-bloomer who is expected to go high in the NFL draft.
"I think I try to be realistic," Ross said. "We didn't lose a lot of players, but what we lost was quality. It's hard to measure the loss. I'm looking at an intangible."
The heir apparent to Reich is Stan Gelbaugh, who threw for 1,123 yards and five touchdowns when Reich was lost to a shoulder separation last season. He made his first start against Penn State and passed for 308 yards in a 25-24 loss. "He deserves the right to be beaten out," Ross said.
But the Terrapins are also in search of a dependable backup. The candidates are Barry Waselski, Ken Vierra, Dan Henning (son of the Atlanta Falcons head coach of the same name) and redshirt freshman Drew Komlo, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound prospect from DeMatha High.
Most of the time will be spent at center replacing Glover, one of the most dependable linemen the Terrapins have ever had. Right now the position is the biggest question mark, but Ross moved defensive tackle Dave Amend, a 6-3, 250-pound redshirt sophomore, to the position because he tested so highly on lineman drills. "We'll give him a good long look," Ross said. "Right now the position is up for grabs."
The other prospects are 6-2, 259-pound John Perna and 6-3, 250-pound John Rugg, both sophomores.
At wide receiver, a fairly strong corps returns in Eric Holder, Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof, John Bonato and Sean Sullivan. But Bonato will miss all of spring practice with a broken arm suffered last season and Sullivan is coming off a torn tendon in his right ring finger.
Ramon Parades is expected to pick up where Atkinson left off. The Terrapins will spend more time than usual on the kicking game to get him ready. "He's got a good leg, but he hasn't been exposed to the game situation," Ross said.
At linebacker, Wilson and reserve Doug Cox are gone, but three experienced players return in Chuck Faucette, Bobby DePaul and Rich Petitbon, the son of Redskins defensive coordinator Richie Petitbon.
Spring practice is a time for tinkering, and Ross is planning to experiment with some position changes. Most of them involve the running backs corps, which two years ago was a problem area for the team. But now running back is the Terrapins' deepest position, with Rick Badanjek, Alvin Blount and Tommy Neal.
In the interest of defensive depth, Kevin Walker will be moved from running back to linebacker to help fill things out with the loss of Wilson; Leon Bray will move from the backfield to the defensive secondary, and Mike Shiner will be switched from the backfield to defensive end at his own request.
Ross is also planning something of a return to basics. The Terrapins threw the ball a little too much for his taste last year, and with a strong backfield the run will be reemphasized.
"It goes back to establishing ball control," he said. "I don't want us to become a finesse team, which we've started to do sometimes. When you throw the ball a lot, you have a tendency to want to finesse things. But in every game a point comes where you can't finesse it -- you've got to be able to establish the run."
Once all that is accomplished, the only thing left to deal with is the schedule. After Penn State, the Terrapins will wade in against Boston College on the road, West Virginia at Byrd Stadium, and Michigan in Ann Arbor. All three of those teams, it should be noted, went to bowl games last season.
"It all hinges on filling those voids," Ross said. "If things work out there, it could be our best team. But that doesn't necessarily mean we'll win more. Those first four games are murderous."