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STEVE DESHAZO: Terps out to show ’11 troubles are behind them
COLLEGE PARK, Md.—With the notable exception of Penn State, every college football team in the country began practice this week with an air of optimism.
That includes Maryland, which proudly unveiled its new $3 million turf field and another set of stylish new uniforms at Monday’s annual preseason media day.
But if anyone knows that substance, not style, is what really matters, it’s the Terrapins.
They opened the Randy Edsall era with a nationally televised 32–24 win over Miami in gaudy new threads on Labor Day night in 2011. They then lost 10 of their final 11 games.
That’s why senior defensive lineman A.J. Francis dubbed Maryland’s theme for the 2012 season “redemption.”
“We let ourselves down, and we let Terrapin Nation down last year,” Francis said. “We need to redeem ourselves and get the pride back. There’s no pride in 2–10.”
Just as disturbing as the losses was the impression that Edsall was too strict and lost touch with his team. More than two dozen players with eligibility—including former starting quarterback Danny O’Brien—defected after the season, lending credence to the widespread notion that Edsall was captain of a sinking ship.
“Last year was a misrepresentation of this program,” said senior linebacker Kenny Tate, who played in just four games in 2011 because of a knee injury. “We’re not out to prove anybody wrong, but we definitely know we’re capable of better.”
Tate’s return for a fifth season suggests that Maryland’s program isn’t irredeemable. The 2011 preseason All-American reportedly had his differences with his new coach, and few would have been surprised if he had joined the offseason exodus. (To be fair, there’s never a coaching change that doesn’t include a turnover in personnel.)
But Tate, who helped the Terps rebound from a 2–10 mark in 2009 to finish 9–4 in 2010, is determined to undertake another turnaround.
“We had a 2–10 season with a veteran coach [Ralph Friedgen], so I mean we’ve been through it before. We know how hard we have to work. We’re definitely on the right path.”
Stafford High School graduate Dexter McDougle, a starting cornerback, said he never considered leaving, either, and that he paid scant attention to outside criticism.
“Everybody has something to say when things are going bad,” he said. “But I know what’s going on. We’re going to be successful here.”
There were concessions that changes were necessary. They include two new coordinators (Mike Locksley on offense and Brian Stewart on defense) and a heralded recruiting class that includes Stefon Diggs from nearby Good Counsel High School, rated the No. 2 high school receiver in the country last fall.
The Terps are still painfully young; Two-thirds of the roster has three or more years of eligibility. The secondary lacks experience, and the season could unravel again if junior quarterback C.J. Brown—known as much for his running ability as his passing—were to be hurt.
But the few Terps who remain claim to be older and wiser from last year’s scars. A key will be how much Edsall learned from his rocky first season. Besides losing games, he also became a national scapegoat after blaming the popular Friedgen for some of the program’s woes and for initially blocking O’Brien’s plans to transfer.
A subtle sign that Edsall has softened a bit is the presence of players’ names of the back of their new jerseys, which weren’t there last year. But a coach who comes from the Bill Parcells lineage isn’t about to become Mr. Sensitivity overnight.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is, don’t be afraid to make tough choices,” Edsall said. “Stick to your guns, regardless of what people say on the outside. I saw we weren’t going in the right direction, so I made the decision to change coordinators. But I haven’t changed how we’re trying to make our kids better academically, better football players and better people.
“I want all of our players to have a chip on their shoulder, because I do. Everything that I have envisioned when I came here is coming together. Now what we have to do is go out on the field and win.”
Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443