Patience pays off for Sprague, W. Md.



That's what Dale Sprague says a school needs when it has been down in football and seeks to regain the heights.

Sprague, 38, who coaches Western Maryland, is living proof of that.

When he came to Westminster in 1986, the football program was in tatters. The Green Terrors had posted an 0-9 record in '85 and some observers, including this one, wondered if football was practical for a college with 1,200 students, half of them women.

"Western Maryland has played football for 100 years and I think they'll continue the program," I was told then by Mitch Tullai, who played on the school's last undefeated team in 1951 and has been head coach ever since at St. Paul's School.

Sprague showed everyone that it can be done -- but he didn't show it right away.

In his first year the team won no games. The second year, it won one. Third year, same: one victory (and nine losses).

But after that Sprague's intense recruiting efforts began to kick in and the wins started to come: six in '90, five last year.

Right now Western Maryland is 5-1 and off to its best start since 1978. Moreover, after last week's 17-14 upset win over Dickinson, the Terrors are in first place in the Centennial Conference with a 4-0 record.

At Western Maryland, patience has paid off.

"I don't care if it's Vanderbilt, Auburn or a Division III school like Western Maryland," says Sprague. "You're not going to rebuild overnight.

"You win with good people. If you work hard and get good kids, you're going to win. These schools that change coaches every two or three years are only headed for more woes."

There's a strong message there that could apply to three Division I schools in this state that are down now -- Maryland, Navy and Morgan State.

In the middle of his third season at Navy, coach George Chaump has no wins. In his first at Maryland, Mark Duffner has one. Ricky Diggs, in his second at Morgan, is 2-4.

Sprague leaps to the defense of the one he knows best -- the one with no wins.

"George Chaump is a great coach," says Sprague. "Look what he did at Marshall. With a coach like him, all you do is show xTC patience. Give him time and the program will succeed."

Meanwhile, there's more success today at patient Western Maryland than most would have thought possible.

Jim Margraff, the coach of arch-rival Johns Hopkins (which will host Western Maryland Nov. 14), has seen tapes of the Terrors' games.

Says Margraff: "They're good. Rob Johnson [who has rushed for 1,087 yards already this season] is a Division I back playing in Division III. I think Western Maryland's looking at a national playoff."

It's possible for the Terrors to make the 16-team field, but they'd have to finish 9-1 and some unbeaten schools in the South region (Susquehanna, Lycoming, Emory and Henry, Washington and Jefferson and Sewanee) would have to lose.

Sprague is not thinking 9-1. He's thinking about Saturday at Franklin & Marshall, which is coached by ex-Colt Tom Gilburg and is always tough.

,.3l Then he'll think about, in order, Lebanon Valley, Swarthmore and Hopkins. Says Sprague: "Every game will be a dogfight."

* Duffner has lost more games (six) already this season at Maryland than he did in six years at Holy Cross. His record there was 60-5-1.

I keep looking for signs that the losing is wearing down the energetic Duffner. So far there are none. On a visit to College Park this week, there appeared to be no withering of his missionary zeal.

"Winning is the solution we have to have right now," Duffner says with his usual fervor. "We're charging forward toward a win. That's where our focus is.

"We came close again last week against Wake Forest [23-30]. We've got to cross that bridge. We can't keep walking on it."

The oddsmakers don't think the Terps will cross it Saturday. Maryland is a 1 1/2 -point underdog at Duke.

* McDonogh School grad Stanley Dorsey will be a busy young man when Maryland comes to Durham, N.C.

Dorsey is a 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior wide receiver for Duke and pass defense is a Maryland weakness that Duke surely will try to exploit.

Duffner has noticed Dorsey's work in the game films he has studied this week.

"Stanley Dorsey is an exceptional receiver on the outside," says Duffner.

Dorsey has started every game (Duke is 2-4) and has caught 15 passes this season for 196 yards.

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