COLLEGE PARK - After practice yesterday morning, Bruce Perry emerged from Maryland's locker room at the eastern end of Byrd Stadium wearing a smirk and a powder blue Philadelphia Phillies hat while flashing a familiar gesture.
Confronted by a group of reporters seeking comment, Perry responded by mimicking a knife with his hand as it crossed his neck. The silent but none-too-cryptic message: Things are not going well.
Indeed, they weren't. Once again, injury - this time a right ankle sprain - will force the senior running back to wait. Healing will take two to six weeks, likely sidelining him for the second straight season opener.
Coach Ralph Friedgen said he doubted Perry would be ready when the Terps travel to Northern Illinois for their game Aug. 28, two weeks from today. He said the same for Steve Suter (North Carroll), who suffered a hamstring pull and traveled to the training room on the same cart as Perry. His recovery time is expected to be two weeks.
Perry is continuing a medical odyssey that goes back to the end of the 2001 season, in which he rushed for 1,242 yards and earned Offensive Player of the Year honors in the Atlantic Coast Conference. While preparing for the Orange Bowl, he suffered an abdominal pull that limited his effectiveness in a loss to Florida.
Doctors later discovered that calcium deposits caused the injury. Perry sat out spring practice in 2002 and didn't fully heal until two weeks into preseason practice last fall. Just as the abdominal pain faded - 10 days before the season opener against Notre Dame - he suffered a one-inch muscle tear in his groin that benched him for the first seven games. Then he hurt his left shoulder one quarter into his first game back.
Perry hoped to shake that track record this season, implying that at 205 pounds, he's the heaviest and, therefore, healthiest he has ever been.
"I'm looking forward to beginning this season totally healthy," Perry said last week. "I feel as though I've got something to prove individually, but the first thing I want to do is help my team win games. Everything else will fall into place."
Despite this history, Friedgen said he left a post-practice conversation with Perry confident that his star tailback was not demoralized.
"He's bound and determined that this isn't going to keep him out that long," Friedgen said. "So his frame of mind is good. He said he had three treatments on it today, and I think he'll do what he needs to do to get himself ready."
With Josh Allen and Mario Merrills suffering from hamstring injuries, a pair of power backs likely would run for the Terrapins if they were to play today.
Sam Maldonaldo, a transfer from Ohio State, and first-year player Lance Ball are the only backs not to succumb to injury so far. Maldonaldo played well in the team's spring game in April, and Friedgen said he's impressed with Ball, who has benefited from the sudden extra repetitions.
"He has a chance to get better," Friedgen said. "He's built like a bowling ball, but he has great acceleration and good feet."
NOTE: Nose tackle C.J. Feldheim, who re-injured his right knee last week, began practicing individual drills yesterday morning and probably will resume full participation today.