COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- Sitting in front of his locker during media day yesterday, Terrapins nose tackle C.J. Feldheim wore a look of anxiety on his face that matched that of his locker mate Conrad Bolston.
Bolston, a defensive tackle out of Burtonsville, is a freshman, so any nervousness he was experiencing as the Maryland football team prepared itself for the first practice of preseason was completely understandable.
Feldheim, a senior who helped Hereford High to its first state title in 1997, has been through three of these season-opening practices already. It just felt like he was about to take part in his first.
"I kinda do [feel like a freshman] a little bit," said Feldheim, a nose tackle who missed the last six games of 2002 after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. "It's been since October since I played any real football and had any real contact. I'm just looking forward to getting out there and proving to myself that I'm back and ready for this season.
"The most important thing is getting it right in my head that everything is fine and back to normal, and from there, everybody will see that I'm the same player that I was last year."
Heading into the Terps' Week 8 game against Duke last year, Feldheim was having a fine season. He had started the first seven games after starting all 12 the season before during the Terps' surprising run to an Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
Before the injury last year, he already had tied a career high with 36 tackles, including 5 1/2 for losses to go along with 1 1/2 sacks and three quarterback hurries.
The transformation from defensive tackle to nose tackle appeared complete. He had added nearly 60 pounds to his frame over the course of three years -- he weighed 235 as a freshman but is now 6 feet 3, 291 pounds -- to reach that point. But then he sustained the knee injury, which came on the first play from scrimmage against Duke on Oct. 26.
"I realized that all I could do was get ready for next season," said Feldheim, who had surgery about two weeks after the injury and rehabbed through the spring. "The knee feels good. Right now, I'm definitely at 100 percent."
Said Terps coach Ralph Friedgen: "C.J.'s at full speed, has his strength up. I think he's ready to go."
That's certainly welcome news for the Terps, who for the first time during Friedgen's three-year tenure have some depth on the defensive line. Last year, injuries along the line forced Friedgen and defensive coordinator Gary Blackney to do plenty of shuffling. The situation got so dire that lacrosse player-turned-walk-on Justin Duffie started at nose tackle in the Peach Bowl victory over Tennessee.
But All-ACC second-team performer Randy Starks is back at defensive tackle, joining Feldheim in forming a one-two punch in the middle. Several other newcomers also figure to get plenty of action.
Shutting down the running game and getting penetration to flush quarterbacks outside the pocket are the tasks for Feldheim, who last year played a major role in occupying blockers and allowing All-America linebacker E.J. Henderson to roam free.
Henderson is gone, now with the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, but Feldheim does not see his role changing. "I'm still looking to make plays, but I first have to eat up blockers," he said.
"We got to stop the run first and C.J. does a good job against the run," said Maryland defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo. "In Coach Blackney's defense, you basically attack all the time, and that's what C.J. does."
Starks said Feldheim is like having another coach on the field.
"He's one of the older guys, and he brings a lot of leadership to the team and that's a big factor," Starks said. "His return really means a lot to us."
NOTE: Friedgen said that linebacker Randy Earle, a second-year freshman from North Massapequa, N.Y., has left the team for personal reasons and will likely transfer to Hofstra.