Mr. Intensity

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK - Dave Sollazzo might not be the face of Maryland football, but he's the voice. His raspy, drill-sergeant growl can be heard through meeting-room doors and echoing around the Terps' football complex.

"All right, men, let's go!" bellows Sollazzo, the frenetic defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. "First-and-10 and they're in the Ace set. They're not going to throw the damn football, YOU GOT ME?"

On this day, Sollazzo's rant was not for the benefit of Terrapins players, but for cameras shooting an Under Armour commercial starring the 6-foot-3, 240-pound former defensive lineman as himself.

Sollazzo's intensity was the perfect fit for the Baltimore-based sports apparel company that several years ago had been looking for the prototype of a passionate football coach for its "Protect This House" ad series. Sollazzo, 52, is an amped-up electron of a coach who throws pens and visors in exasperation during practices and last season joyfully tackled his own lineman on the sideline after a sack.

Sollazzo, whose career has long been connected to head coach Ralph Friedgen's, has imprinted his screaming voice on the brains of scores of Maryland players and officials. "One year we were down at Georgia Tech and an official didn't make a holding call. He came by recently and said he still wakes up in the middle of the night and sees my face in his ear," Sollazzo said.

Many Sollazzo stories involve hurled objects.

"In practice, he gets mad and he always has a pen, and he always throws that pen, and then he's always screaming at the manager to get another one," said defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre, who credits Sollazzo's coaching with helping him start as a freshman. "When he's frustrated, he'll throw his paper and he'll be kicking that around, too."

For as long as Sollazzo can remember, he and Friedgen have been linked. Both grew up in the New York City suburb of Harrison, where Sollazzo's father ran a recreation center and was Friedgen's American Legion baseball coach. Friedgen's father was Sollazzo's high school athletic director.

Friedgen, nine years Sollazzo's senior, recruited Sollazzo to play at The Citadel, where Friedgen was an assistant. "It was a military college and I wasn't very military-oriented," Sollazzo recalled. "So he must have done a good job recruiting. I had never heard of The Citadel in my life."

Their intertwined history makes them allies when things go sour and Terrapins fans fill message boards with the sorts of invective that appeared after Maryland was upset Saturday at Middle Tennessee State.

Sollazzo's defensive line didn't apply the pressure he wanted against the Blue Raiders, whose possession time of 39:49 was almost double Maryland's. "We've just got to finish. I mean, we're there. Their quarterback did a good job of getting the ball out quick," Sollazzo said.

Sollazzo, married with a 4-year-old son, said he regards Friedgen almost as a brother. Friedgen plays the older-sibling role by needling Sollazzo and calling him a "goombah," which Sollazzo says is meant affectionately.

As recruiting coordinator, Sollazzo has been trying to keep local talent away from such schools as Florida State and Penn State, which have plucked players from Maryland in the past. The Baltimore-Washington area has become an increasingly popular recruiting site, with more schools from distant conferences such as the Pacific-10 venturing in. Each top player who leaves Maryland provokes a new round of Terps fans' criticism.

Maryland says it is increasingly focusing its efforts on players within a five-hour drive of campus and paying less heed to competitive states such as Florida, where it has no natural foothold.

"We're getting more commitments from the local area. We've got 10 guys coming in who are [high school] seniors now and have verbally committed for 2009," Sollazzo said.

Those who have witnessed Sollazzo's recruiting describe him as persistent and straightforward, and not prone to making fanciful promises that some recruits might want to hear.

"They're straight-shooters," Terrapins parent Erin Wujciak of West Caldwell, N.J., said of Sollazzo and Friedgen. Her son, Alex, was successfully recruited by Sollazzo a few years ago to play linebacker. He started this season's first two games.

Said Sollazzo: "Obviously, kids today and parents can see through a lot of stuff. You go up to New York and New Jersey and give lip service, you're going to get run out of town."

Sollazo does his recruiting in private, but his coaching antics are often in full view of the media or fans.

His practice-field shouts to players include "PENETRATE!" and "SIC 'EM!"

Last season, he memorably celebrated a key sack by Navarre in Maryland's victory at Rutgers. "I tackled him [on the sideline] and we actually fell to the ground," Sollazzo said. "I always like to tell my players I'll be the first to greet them."



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two of a kind

* Dave Sollazzo and Ralph Friedgen are both from Harrison, N.Y. Both made stops at The Citadel and Georgia Tech.

* Sollazzo's father was Friedgen's American Legion baseball coach.

* Friedgen's father was Sollazzo's high school athletic director. "He was intimidating," Sollazzo says. "His office was right there by the locker room, and I'd always walk by really fast."

* They like to needle each other. Friedgen says he needs to soundproof any room where Sollazzo speaks.

* Both like to listen to Frank Sinatra.


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