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Jitters bug Terps before first dance

September 03, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Byrd Stadium will host either a college football game or a butterfly collectors' convention on Saturday.

The University of Maryland is scheduled to play Northern Illinois in its season opener on that day. But there is some uneasiness about the game, especially on the Terps' sideline.

"I think I have more butterflies this year than I did for my first game," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen. "I really don't know how this team is going to react because it's so young."

Friedgen, Maryland's monarch, could have good reason to be jittery. That could mean the Terps might need more than just the netting in the end zones to catch scoring kicks to get by in this first game.

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Maryland, ranked No. 22 and a 14-point favorite in the game, will be facing a Northern Illinois team that beat the Terps in last year's opener. And Maryland will be doing it with a new starting quarterback, a pair of shuffled lines and a rebuilt defensive secondary.

"In our last scrimmage, I didn't think we scrimmaged very well until I looked at the tape and then I thought we got after each other pretty good," Friedgen said. "The problem was that they were all freshmen out there scrimmaging. "

The inexperience factor has become the biggest obstacle Maryland has faced under Friedgen.

When Friedgen took over the job in 2001, he inherited an experienced team, but one that was experienced in losing. He not only had to teach them a new offense, but also a new attitude, and the Terps won the Atlantic Coast Conference title.

The last two seasons, Friedgen had a quarterback he was confident in in Scott McBrien and a number of players who were holdovers from the 2001 success. It gave the Terps something to build on and Friedgen a few more restful nights. In turn, Maryland won trips to - and titles in - the Peach and Gator Bowls.

This year is a lot different. It's almost like starting over.

The Terps only have three sophomores - quarterback Joel Statham, linebacker David Holloway and punter Adam Podlesh - are the only underclass players starting for the Terps, but 16 positions have freshmen or sophomores listed second on the depth chart.

"Some of them are going to be very good. The problem is they're not ready," Friedgen said. "They're not mature enough. It's hard for a lot of these kids to understand because they were good in high school and now, they come in and it's a whole different level."

One guy who Friedgen is expecting to figure everything out early is starting quarterback Joel Statham, one of the sophomores. But the coach expects his quarterback to be standing next to him at the nets.

"I'm sure this is going to be a learning experience for him," Friedgen said. "If he can get over the butterflies and go out and play the way he's capable of, I think he'll play very well."

Still, it's going to be a different sort of team for Maryland when it faces Northern Illinois. The revenge factor is in because of the opening loss the Huskies dealt the Terps last season.

But revenge is the last thing on Friedgen's mind. The survival instincts are kicking in.

"We have a very young football team," Friedgen said. "They're very competitive and enthusiastic, and I know that when the adrenaline starts, we're going to make mistakes because they are reacting and not thinking. There's just so many things that we don't know about this team. We're going to find out a lot more on Saturday about where they are."

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