Terps' Heyward-Bey stops thinking, starts speeding

September 23, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Darrius Heyward-Bey is becoming a reality star at Maryland.

It's all because he was able to survive his own personal Fear Factor.

Heyward-Bey is rounding into a new receiving star for the University of Maryland football team. He has all the tools to be the next prominent pass catcher for the Terrapins because of his blazing speed and soft hands.

For a while, that wasn't enough.

Heyward-Bey needed some incentive to come out of his shell with the Terrapins. Coach Ralph Friedgen had an answer which hit the receiver like a cold bucket of water.

"Coach called me into his office and said that if I didn't pick it up, I wasn't going to make the team," Heyward-Bey said. "That got me thinking. I needed to find something in me. I knew the things I had to work on, it just had to start showing up on the field."


That was one way to get the redshirt freshman's attention. Things seemed to be going well. Heyward-Bey was one of the fastest guys on the team, but he wasn't applying his talent to his work on the field.

"I was disappointed with him in the spring because he wasn't running his routes using his speed," Friedgen said. "He was thinking about everything he had to do. Here was a fast guy who wasn't playing fast."

Heyward-Bey found himself worrying about technique rather than using his talent. Friedgen got his attention.

"I took it for what it was," Heyward-Bey said. "I took it as I'm not on the team and I had better straighten up. It was the shock, but it was the same way in high school. I have never been a practice player. When the lights came on, I always showed up. But now, I was saying that maybe I should start to become a practice player."

Heyward-Bey was doing the worst thing an athlete can do on the playing field.

He was thinking.

"That was messing with me," Heyward-Bey said. "I would be running the pattern and saying, 'I need to go four steps this way and then two this way' and I wasn't getting where I needed to be for the ball. Then I said, 'Hey. I run a 4.2 (second 40-yard dash). I might as well run a 4.2.' Now I just run fast and get there as quickly as I can. It might not be perfect, but I'm still there."

Heyward-Bey found out that style points don't count. It's more about catching the ball than looking good getting there.

"He is growing with confidence," Friedgen said. "Now he is playing fast. He's not thinking and he is coming out of his cuts at full speed. Now, no one can sit on him because he will run right by them. That's fun as a coach to see him improve and brim over with success because he sees that he can do it."

Heyward-Bey is becoming more of a weapon for the Terps. He is being used as a secondary kick returner and was part of one of the negative turning points in the West Virginia game.

Heyward-Bey peeled back against the grain of Maryland's first kickoff return against WVU to run a reverse, but he fumbled the exchange from Josh Wilson, resulting in a Mountaineers recovery and eventual touchdown in last Thursday's 45-24 loss.

"The coach called it and it didn't work," Heyward-Bey said. "We fumbled and didn't get the ball back. We have to learn from that and we have to protect the football better."

That fumble was the second step in WVU's 28-0 onslaught in the first quarter leading to the blowout victory. Optimists say the Terps outscored the Mountaineers 24-17 in the final three quarters, which doesn't mean anything.

Yet, it showed Heyward-Bey a little more about how fear can factor into improving play.

"I was surprised we stayed in the game," Heyward-Bey said. "I thought we might just go in there and run plays to keep the clock going. Coach pulled out some plays that we don't use much."

Heyward-Bey caught five passes for 49 yards in what might become his coming-out party for the Maryland offense. Before last Thursday, he had only one catch for the season and in his career.

"Heyward-Bey had a very good game and showed what kind of football player he is going to be," Friedgen said.

You could almost say Heyward-Bey is becoming fearless.

"I'm more relaxed now," he said. "All I was doing before was thinking about making big plays. I'm not worried about what Coach is thinking. All I needed to do is just play. I'm just playing."

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