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Friedgen to name starting tailback today

October 24, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - They warm up. They come out and give it their best shot. And then they wait for the judges to vote for the winner.

No, it's not the latest episode in the search for another American Idol.

It's just another day in the life of being a Maryland tailback.

Today is the day that coach Ralph Friedgen - the master judge - will select who will start on Saturday against Duke. Chris Downs, who rushed for 212 yards and three touchdowns last week against Georgia Tech, and Josh Allen, the Terps' freshman phenom have been the main players vying to start in the backfield.

But today may be the day that it all changes. A new factor may be introduced. Today might be the first time that long-injured Bruce Perry comes in and reclaims the job that he starred in during the 2001 season.

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"Chris deserves it but it is still based on the competition at practice," Friedgen said. "It is amazing the competition at the tailback spot. All of them know who ever is the best one will play."

For the last four games, Downs and Allen have looked over their shoulders, just waiting for the time that Perry recovers enough to retake the starting job.

Neither has complained about being temporary. After all, Downs admits he came into this season just looking to be a role player. Allen is a true freshman who almost didn't have a scholarship tendered his way from Maryland.

Neither can complain about their season thus far.

In fact, they might even enjoy the new challenge of trying to take down the guy who was the Atlantic Coast Conference offensive player of the year.

"As soon as we get Bruce back, it will make the offense even stronger," Downs said. "It will just be one big competition out there. It will be fun. Competition brings out the best in all of us - me, Mario (Merrills), Bruce, Josh and Jason (Crawford). It is the way to prove to the coaches that I could do it out there."

Downs has made the best of his opportunities, especially after spending his entire career just hoping for a chance to play. The senior had passing thoughts - initiated by his family - to leave Maryland and go somewhere where he could play.

Loyalty and hope kept him with the Terrapins.

"It was more my family than me," Downs said. "I'm not worried about staying. I said that if I decided to leave, it says that I would be quitting something."

Abdominal and groin injuries kept Perry on the sidelines and gave Downs, and then Allen, the chance to play in his place. Some 600 rushing yards and nine touchdowns later, Downs knows that the job isn't his.

"Bruce is better at some things," Downs said. "He catches the ball better out of the backfield and his pass blocking is better. He also makes better reads of the holes. Yeah, I'm hard on myself. I have to be. We all (mess up). I have to focus on the mistakes I make."

Even with his break out game, Downs is no shoo-in for the tailback job, especially if Perry can perform.

"If Bruce is healthy, he brings something to the table that the other guys don't, especially in the passing game and experience-wise," Friedgen said. "But even if he is the starter - and I don't know that he will be - I don't know how long he can go. We need to be concerned with his endurance and conditioning."

The process had been slow with Perry. He tried to get ready for last week's game with Georgia Tech and ended up dragging his leg by the end of Maryland's Monday practice.

It left the junior out of the picture and opened the door for Downs to explode for the big game - including 119 yards in the third quarter alone - and to earn ACC offensive back of the week honors.

Laurels are for sitting on and Downs knows the Maryland's open competition system is not only the fair way to pick starters, it helps insure the best of all world for the Terps - even if it means Downs himself is sitting on the sideline.

"It's no big deal if (Friedgen) says Bruce or Josh will start. He's picking the best back," Downs said. "If Bruce comes back and I only get a handful of carries the rest of the year, it wouldn't matter to me at all."

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