Randy Edsall wished the wait had been only a few hours. A.J. Francis said it absolutely needed to be a couple of weeks.
Ultimately, 105 days' worth of coaching-staff makeovers, recruit welcomes and player departures separated Maryland's bitter final day of the 2011 season and its opening practice of its 2012 calendar Saturday. Receivers dropped passes, defensive ends veered away from unprotected quarterbacks and shoulder pads sat somewhere in an equipment room inside Gossett Football Team House, but the Terps were at least back out playing.
And after a season that saw promise morph into dismay, then embarrassment, that was reward enough.
"You always have that sour taste in your mouth," said quarterback C.J. Brown, who, as the lone scholarship quarterback on the Terps' roster, might as well have been running around the team's practice field in a protective bubble. "Just to get back out here and kind of put the past in the past and move on to the future always feels good."
Surely, the opportunity to change the conversation from Maryland's forgettable 2011 season and equally frenzied offseason was just as relished. After the Terps squandered a 27-point lead in a 56-41 loss to North Carolina State on Nov. 26, a devastating end to a 2-10 season, the criticism continued to mount long after the losses had stopped.
Offensive coordinator Gary Crowton and defensive coordinator Todd Bradford were purged from the program in pricey dismissals, pushed out to make way for Mike Locksley and Brian Stewart, respectively. A flock of players, including several starters, left College Park to continue their playing days elsewhere. Not even the signing of five-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs out of Good Counsel could temper the disbelief over former Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year quarterback Danny O'Brien's decision to transfer in February, or the subsequent fury over Edsall's initial decision to limit his possible destinations.
"You don't talk about last year," the coach said. "You can't get anything back from it. All you can do is just work harder to get better. That's the approach we take, and that's what we've been doing."
Said defensive tackle Joe Vellano: "Obviously, we missed something last year. The only way we know to fix it is just to go back out and work."
Saturday's session marked the first of 14 practices that will culminate with the team's April 21 spring game, but the grind of the season — and the motivation behind it — began long before the blustery morning practice.
On every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this winter, the Terps rose at 6 a.m. for morning runs and team breakfasts. Weightlifting sessions came later in the afternoon. Wednesdays weren't technically off days, either — those were route-running and chemistry-developing days for Brown and his receiving corps.
When the Terps weren't getting bigger and stronger — Edsall said the team's performance was "almost plus-20 [pounds]" in the bench press, squat and power clean this winter — they watched as some of their ACC brethren finished their seasons in bowl games. That, of course, wasn't always easy do.
"It's just annoying to sit at home, watching teams that you know you could've beat play in big bowl games, knowing that they're having a good time in big cities, having fun," said Francis, a defensive tackle.
Maryland's stated goal for this season, as it is every year, is an ACC Championship. But in their hunt for a spot in the conference title game 266 days from Saturday, in their search for a shot at their first Bowl Championship Series bowl game in nearly a decade, the Terps know their first real steps came Saturday.
"You get what you earn, and right now, we earned a 2-10 season," Francis said, recalling Stewart's message to the unit during an earlier meeting. "We got to earn a way better season, and it starts today in spring ball."
Notes: Brown, who split reps with senior walk-on transfer Ricky Schultz (Mount Hebron) on Saturday, gained nearly 15 pounds this offseason, which Edsall hopes will better protect his top option under center this year.
"He was a little light. We wanted him to put some weight on. We wanted him to get a little bit stronger," Edsall said. "Sometimes, he's going to take a hit, but having a little bit more strength, a little bit more meat on his bones, it will protect him a little bit more."
Francis said the Terps' defense, which is entering its third preseason under a different coordinator in three years, turned in what "might've been the best first-day practice we've ever had in spring ball."
"First practice, first coordinator," Vellano added, "and I really think we actually did a lot of good things."
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