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Maryland perceives big things

August 13, 2002|By BOB PARASILITI

Perception is everything.

It is more mental than physical. It's good salesmanship. It's inspirational speaking. It's reality's hall of mirrors.

Perception allows the belief that something can be pulled off to be stronger than the actual ability to accomplish it.

Example? How long has the city of Hagerstown pulled off the illusion of being a "baseball town?" Twenty-two years? Now that's one for the Perception Hall of Fame.

But really, there's nothing fake about good perception. Believe you are a winner, act like a winner and look like a winner and you have a good chance to be a winner. The mind is a powerful vehicle.

Nowhere has that frame of mind been taken on a stronger joyride than with the University of Maryland's football program.

Last year, coach Ralph Friedgen did more for The Power of Positive Thinking than Norman Vincent Peale, Dr. Phil and The Little Train That Could ever did in a combined effort.

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He took a Terrapin program which had a doormat complex and undertook a mental overhauling project to make it think and believe it could win.

In the span of one magical season, Maryland went from being selected to finish second to last in the Atlantic Coast Conference with another in a long line of unfulfilled seasons to a juggernaut that finished with a ranking of 11th in the nation with a 10-2 record, an ACC title, a trip to the Orange Bowl and national coach of the year honors for Friedgen.

"Fridge-chology" turned Shaun Hill from an afterthought into a strong leading man at quarterback. It changed Bruce Perry from a sideline-to-sideline runner into the league's top offensive player and E.J. Henderson from another linebacker into a defensive force that made ACC defensive player of the year voters think that Julius Peppers was something you put on a steak sandwich.

Maryland emphatically changed college football's perception that its program had fallen out of the bigtime and couldn't get up.

Now, with the new excitement over Terrapin football in full bloom, Friedgen is trying to make people perceive Maryland as perennial champions.

"There are a lot of positive things happening here," Friedgen said Friday during Maryland's annual media day. "A lot of fans started to pay attention at Maryland football. The last home game was electric. There was more excitement. There is nothing that can replace the excitement in a college game. We are trying to help add to that excitement."

The winter makeover started with the view from the stands around the Byrd Stadium field which was being re-sodded in places between the 35s. New goal posts were being erected in the end zone while workers were in the beginning stages of putting up new scoreboards, including a Jumbotron on the training facility end of the field.

New team uniforms -- a hybrid of the Denver Broncos pants with a New York Jets-styled jersey -- were shown for the team picture, in red and white, the colors of Maryland's glory days.

Inside the Gossett Football Team House, the lobby area near the entrance has been replaced with more offices and other renovations are being made to help the program fit the big-time scenario.

"We are building an academic center and a dining hall," Friedgen said. "Next year, we will be able to have this press conference in a new auditorium. We are trying to get things to where we want them to be."

The biggest benefit of the new perception for Maryland football is the throng of students, alumni and statewide fans who are trying to wedge their way on the bandwagon.

In the old days, empty seats outnumbered the fannies sitting in them. Now, the Terps have supplied a demand for game tickets. Now, a number of Maryland home games are already at or near capacity.

"We have sold 20,000 season tickets already. That's up 30 percent over last year and we haven't even started the campaign yet," Friedgen said. "We put up temporary seating for games at the end of the season. We are going to put them up from the beginning this year. The facility is improving and if we can keep getting the crowds, we'll look and see about adding seats to the stadium."

Friedgen has made sure Maryland has the belief, act and now the look of winning down cold. Now it's a case of making sure that the perception is not deception.

"It's all been almost humbling," Friedgen said. "I appreciate the warmth of the fans. I can't go into a store even now where people aren't congratulating me on the season. I realize that as good as last season was, it's time to move on. I appreciate last year, but I'm looking to win this year."

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

And that's a perception that most Maryland fans could learn to live with.

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