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Ambush - Leader, mode of Terps attack

December 31, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Leroy Ambush is beyond normal descriptions.

A year ago, Ambush was just hoping he could be mentioned in the same sentence with former University of Maryland's All-American linebacker E.J. Henderson. To the Thomas Johnson graduate, that would have been the ultimate compliment of his career.

But now, entering Thursday's Gator Bowl, Ambush has become too valuable to the Terrapins to be characterized in an ordinary string of words. Instead, he will stand next to Henderson sharing one common adjective - irreplaceable.

Ambush spent most of his college career covered by the dominating shadow Henderson cast for the Maryland defense. But in his senior season, Ambush has steadily improved to become one of the mainstays in the Terps' alignment, earning his identity with the one fateful hit on North Carolina State quarterback Phillip Rivers which ultimately put Maryland in the Gator Bowl.

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"Leroy Ambush has brought consistency to the defense and is a steady player," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "That is the biggest compliment I can pay anyone. They come in and play their game every week. We are going to miss Leroy Ambush next season and replacing him is a concern."

Ambush hasn't earned the drooling accolades Henderson did in his two monster years at middle linebacker for Maryland - culminating in a league defensive player of the year and two All-American honors - before being drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Vikings. Instead, Ambush has anchored the strong side of the defense, keeping opponents in check with his brand of air-tight containment.

So the irreplaceable tag from Friedgen is a big honor.

"I think that's a big compliment," Ambush said. "We came out week in and week out and played our game. I feel real good because my position is tough. You have to be able to play both the run and pass. That's what you have to do to be consistent."

Much of the time, Ambush wasn't flashy, just consistent. Maryland didn't need flashy after losing the first two games of the season to put the Terrapins in a hole. They had to win out in order to even come near the expectations which were placed on the team.

D'Qwell Jackson now played in Henderson's role and was getting credit for the big hits - that is until Ambush unloaded the biggest tackle of the season on Rivers, which forced a fumble and set up the winning field goal.

"That hit will be the highlight of my life. My life is that hit," said Ambush, who admits he has downloaded film clips of the play on his computer and watches it often. "I get congratulated for it every day. I've always imagined something like that happening in a game. I always wanted to be in that situation."

Ambush will get back into the situation one last time when Maryland faces West Virginia for the third time in 15 months. The evolution of each team makes this game one where consistency could win out again.

"I don't think we can look at this as a cakewalk," Ambush said. "They have gotten better and we have been getting better as we go along."

Still, Friedgen classified Ambush's sack of Rivers as a play which will go down in Maryland football history.

"I remember it to this day," Ambush said. "The play lasted five or six seconds, but it felt like .2 seconds. It went so fast."

It doesn't take long to be considered irreplaceable, but Ambush knows being 'irreplaceable' doesn't mean he's immortal.

"They will find someone to replace me," he said. "There are a lot of good athletes here. Someone will be able to come in and play this position ... probably better than I do."

One unforgettable hit, notwithstanding.

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