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Downs cashes in on opportunity

November 29, 2002|by BOB PARASILITI

More so than you might want to believe. For Downs, it is a storybook ending to a storybook year for one of the best storybook characters in college football this season.

But he was one of many that made up the Terps this year, a team which nearly matched the 2001 season with a far less experienced team.

"This is the second year that the media has recognized the success of our kids on the field," coach Ralph Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "It just shows the media was aware of how well we did and how we progressed.

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"Everyone did what they had to to help the team. We had double the players on the first team of anyone else in the conference, including Florida State. That says something about our success and should give us some respect."

The Terps were a novel within themselves. Each of the eight players selected for the first team had a different chapter to add to the final draft.

From Downs' surprising saga, there was the fabled career of linebacker E.J. Henderson, who was selected as a first-team linebacker and will be named defensive player of the year for the second straight season.

Friedgen was like a proud father when it came to each circumstance for each player.

"Todd Wike is All-ACC at center and he's a better guard," Friedgen said. "On another team, he'd be complaining, but he did what we needed to do to help the team.

"(Offensive lineman) Matt Crawford, he didn't have to come back. He had already graduated. His knee was bad enough to stop him from playing. Then he had an injury which was supposed to keep him out of the lineup for four weeks. He was playing the next week."

Still, no story was as dramatic as that of Downs.

And no one seemed to be happier than Downs to receive the honor.

"I had a huge Kool-Aid smile on my face when they told me," he said. "It feels good."

Downs started so low on the Maryland depth chart, he should have had the bends when he surfaced. He was an afterthought that became the Terps most important cog when defending ACC offensive player of the year Bruce Perry missed most of the season due to injury.

Downs has accounted for 1,035 yards rushing, 117 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns in his dream season.

When I came out this year, I though I could make a contribution on special teams," Downs said. "I want to take time to thank coach Friedgen and the coaching staff for them to say throw him in there and see what happens. It worked out and I'm glad."

Steve Suter was also a major story in Maryland's success as an explosive playmaker. Even though he's a receiver by trade, Suter has made a splash as a kick returner, taking four punts back for touchdowns to set a NCAA record.

"It was something I was striving for," Suter said. "I put my goals high but I didn't know if I could get it, but I figured with the NCAA record, I'd have a shot."

Even offensive lineman Lamar Bryant, a second-team selection, had an instance to remember because of his honor.

"I'm happy for (Wike) and (Crawford) for them to make it," Bryant said. They have been here a year longer than I have.

"I called home and told my dad about getting on the team, but not my mom. My mom has the tendency to drop the phone. I talked to my mom and asked for my dad and told him. Then he told her about it when he got off the phone. Then she called back all mad at me because I didn't tell her first."

But in the midst of it all, Downs is still the one player who epitomizes what the Terps attained this season.

"I'm happy for Chris. He was a fourth stringer coming in and now he's All-ACC first team," Bryant said. "It puts a smile on my face because what he went through. That's what it's all about."

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