Fridge anxious as Terps close in on opener

August 30, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Ralph Friedgen is having sensory overload.

The University of Maryland football coach knows what he's seeing, understands what he's hearing and has a grasp on his own emotions.

But when it comes to his Terrapins, it is a completely different story.

Like any coach with football in his blood, Friedgen is ready to strap it on Saturday when Maryland hosts William & Mary in the season opener at 6 p.m. at Byrd Stadium. The blood is boiling and the stomach is already churning.

Now, if the Terps are just as anxious, that's a different story.

"I hope the team is excited about (the opener)," Friedgen said Tuesday during the first of his weekly media conferences. "I know I am. The team has to be tired of hitting each other, so hopefully we'll be ready to play on Saturday.


"We're looking forward to having a very good season. We've had a very good camp. We're healthier than we normally are at this point, so we're ready to start the season."

After all these years, just turning the calendar to September gives Friedgen all the rah-rah, sis-boom-bah he needs to get a season started. But every year, with the players getting younger and younger in relation to the head coach, the team's competitive fire isn't always so evident.

"I can't tell you if they are excited. I hope they are," Friedgen said. "This is a new team. We have to find out where they are and where they want to go during the season. I know where I want to go, but I don't know if they know where they want to go."

The answers will begin to come against William & Mary, a Division I-AA school with rich tradition and an experienced head coach in Jimmye Laycock, a friend of Friedgen's who's been at the helm for 26 years.

It's a game - at least on paper - the Terps should win easily to help establish a standard for a season steeped in challenges, the biggest being to regain bowl-game status after two consecutive losing seasons.

Friedgen can control the offense and put the players in place, but his hands are tied when it comes to the intangibles.

"I can't tell you what kind of team we have until they get tested in combat, so to speak," Friedgen said. "We'll know as we progress what kind of team we have. They have worked very hard. We'll have to see how that translates."

The questions are many:

· How will Maryland react "when the lights are on" in a real-game situation?

· Will the Terps be able to put to practice everything that has been preached to them for the last three weeks of camp?

· What players will step up and take the leadership roles? The Terps only have 10 seniors on their roster.

· How driven are the Terps to break the streak of two straight 5-6 seasons?

"We have to go out and play every week. Every game we play can be a valuable win for us," Friedgen said. "We are at the point in our program where we have to go out and play every game. If we want to get to a bowl game, we have to win the games that we can and then go and get some of the others."

Even though critics and oddsmakers consider William & Mary an inferior opponent, it's an important game for Maryland.

"No matter who we play, the difference will be how we react when the game is in the balance." Friedgen said. "Can they push through and win it? That is where confidence comes from. I keep talking to them about what they can be and what they need to do, but sometimes I don't know if they are listening."

There are two immediate variables that Maryland will be gauging - the play of returning quarterback Sam Hollenbach and the establishing of team leaders.

Hollenbach returns after a decent statistical season in 2005, but his performance was laced with mistakes and turnovers. With Friedgen also acting as the offensive coordinator this season, those mistakes won't be tolerated.

"(Hollenbach's) been working on seeing the field better, and he's doing a good job of that," Friedgen said. "I keep telling him it isn't what he does, it's what he doesn't do that will make us successful. We want to work on making sure that he makes the smart plays. He's a smart guy. If he doesn't turn the ball over or fumble or take sacks in the red zone, we'll be a lot better football team because of it."

Much of Maryland's identity will be determined on whether Hollenbach or any other player steps forward to lead the way.

"Leadership isn't always what you say. It's what you do to lead by example," Friedgen said. "There is a price that has to be paid to achieve. You have to give something to get something. I think that's wrong with our society right now we go too easy to get success. Athletics is the last bastion of having to work to get something. I know I'm getting too philosophical again, but that was how I was raised and what I believe."

The uncertainty of the intangibles makes playing William & Mary the most important game of the season.

"We have to go out and play the way we are capable of. We have to play smart, with no errors," Friedgen said. "If we don't do that, then we will be like everyone else. That's why we play the games. It's not decided on a computer. It's not a Madden game."

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