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Terps find winning to their liking

November 08, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Ralph Friedgen is no Ty Pennington, but he can hold his own in an extreme makeover.

For the entire season, the University of Maryland football coach has preached patience. He said the Terps were young and needed to find themselves.

It would just take time.

Well, the time is now.

The Terrapins aren't sitting on the top of the world just yet, but they do have some VIP seating. Maryland is now ranked 23rd and tied with Wake Forest for the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division lead.

It took three months of painful waiting, but the Terps got the two main ingredients - success and confidence - to get headed in the right direction. And the funny thing is, those ingredients come hand in hand.

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"I've always thought that this team, with success, would grow," Friedgen said Tuesday at his weekly media conference. "I think the ball is bouncing our way a little bit right now, where maybe it wasn't earlier. I think there is confidence building in this team. That only comes through success. Being successful is where you become confident."

Maryland loyalists will say they saw this coming the whole time. Those trying to be more objective had to question if this day would ever come this season.

The Terps started the season 3-1 with a trio of nondescript wins against three foes nearly as nondescript, wrapped around a trip behind the woodshed at West Virginia.

The results were positive, but there were questions about when the smoke would dissolve and the mirrors would become smudged.

"Confidence comes from success," Friedgen said. "Until that happens, there is a desire to be successful. You want to be successful, but there is a difference when you accomplish something.

"I've been positive with this team throughout, encouraging them even when people were down on them. Somebody has to always be with them."

Maryland wanted success when it opened the ACC portion of its schedule at Georgia Tech. The Terps played the Yellow Jackets much tougher that expected - and nearly won the game - but fell short because of self-inflicted mistakes.

The story looked like it might be the same the next week, on Oct. 14 at Virginia. The Terps fell behind by 20 points and looked to be out of it.

Then success paid a sales call.

The Terps turned the game around and pulled out a 28-26 win, starting the present four-game winning streak.

"It has always been in the back of our minds," said Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson, who was named ACC defensive player of the week for his 18 tackles in last Saturday's 13-12 win over Clemson. "It was not a question of us being a bad team. We always knew we were capable of doing great things. The Virginia game was a big step for us. It I had to pick one moment, one game, it was that one."

From that point, Maryland has gone from overlooked, to sleeper, to major contender in the ACC. The Terps have handled the first half of the "Murderer's Row" part of their schedule, knocking off Florida State and Clemson with Miami and Boston College to go.

Most of those teams were considered major threats because of their past reputations. Florida State, Clemson and Miami have struggled this season as parity has overrun the ACC, but Maryland's ability to stay the course and improve has made it successful.

Now, the Terps aren't hoping to make plays and win. They are expecting it.

"Now, we are starting to make plays and we are being confident enough to make them," Friedgen said. "That's the big difference that and not turning the ball over."

Maryland's climb back into the Top 25 for the first time since 2003 isn't a reason for celebration. It's just another step in the process.

"I didn't know anything about it," said Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach. "We were in a team meeting and Coach brought it up. He said, 'You guys are in the Top 25, but lose and you'll be out again.'"

Now, with three games remaining in the season, it's a matter of how the Terps handle their "makeover."

"It's a sense of accomplishment to be ranked in the Top 25," Hollenbach said. "That's were we want to stay, but I've really enjoyed this season because no one thought we were any good. I'd rather have them keep thinking we're not any good for the rest of the season."

Confidence and success have a way of changing things.

"As they learn to win, they will become better players," Friedgen said. "But also, better people, too."

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