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McDonald, Friedgen indebted to each other

November 24, 2005|By BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Football, like love, is better the second time around.

There is not much romance being a center on the University of Maryland football team, but there is a definite affection there for Williamsport graduate Ryan McDonald.

McDonald could have walked away for good from football after the 2004 season. He was a graduating senior and was introduced at Maryland's Senior Day festivities.

"I thought that was it," said McDonald about that last game against Wake Forest. "I didn't play much, but I remember walking off the field thinking that that was it. But that was OK. You have to go on."

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But a strange string of events brought McDonald back for an encore. And like all good rock bands, he saved his very best for last. His football career has one, maybe two games, left in it, but McDonald's return to the Terps is something that makes coach Ralph Friedgen feel fortunate.

"We weren't expecting him back this year," Friedgen said. "He'd graduated, but we called him and asked if he was interested in coming back for a fifth year at school. He decided to come back and he's played very well. He's a solid kid and I'm indebted to him for what he's done this year for this program."

Friedgen's comments took McDonald by surprise. He might be just as indebted to Friedgen for another shot.

"It has worked well for both of us," McDonald said. "I don't know if he should be indebted. I was happy to come back. It has been a great year and now we have to go out with a win."

McDonald was planning his future in the veterinary science field when he got the call to come back. The Terps needed an experienced center and offensive line coach Tom Bratton called to see if the 6-foot-2, 275-pound lineman had any concrete plans for his future.

"I knew exactly what he wanted when he called," McDonald said. "They offered me my scholarship and asked me back."

The call gave McDonald something he wanted - something he will cherish - for the rest of his life: The chance to play fulltime.

"To be able to start, it was a blessing," McDonald said. "In high school, I played every down of every game, but being a backup, you aren't in there all the time. In practice, you work as hard as everyone else, but there are only so many reps."

In his two years at Maryland after transferring from Concord College, McDonald was on the field for a total of 77 plays. Playing for Maryland was a personal goal of his, but he would have rather played more.

That's probably why McDonald readily accepted the offer to return, even though his role wasn't a sure thing.

"We were hoping that he would come back and be a backup for us," Friedgen said. "He came out and won the starting job. He's played well."

McDonald was the inexperienced experience on Maryland's young offensive line. The line was considered suspect in the early part of the season, but has matured into one of the Terps' strengths with McDonald as the man in the center.

"Hearing Coach say those things about us makes you feel good," McDonald said. "We have been getting up and hitting people in the mouth on every play. It just takes awhile for everyone to get on the same page and jell."

Returning to play for Maryland has given McDonald many more opportunities. He has been able to get some of his veterinary issues in order and might even venture into wildlife management. And with a Maryland win on Saturday at North Carolina State, he has a chance to end his football career with a bowl game.

But in the end, McDonald will always be proud of his choice to transfer to Maryland, where he was closer to home and nearer to his girlfriend. And, oh yeah, the chance to start and have some real memories from his career.

"It has been so much fun playing," McDonald said. "Just getting out there on the field has been a great feeling. It's tough being a backup after being used to playing all the time in high school. Getting the opportunity to get out on the field makes it all worth it."

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