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TERPS LOOK TO FOLLOW LEADERS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

COLLEGE PARK - - Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen slumped in a chair at the University of Virginia's Scott Stadium.

It was October 2008 and the Terrapins had just lost, 31-0, to an underdog Virginia team that had previously been outscored 128-36. Friedgen's red face was a mixture of fatigue, puzzlement and anger. "Some guys have got to drive it or park it," the coach said.

As the Terrapins prepared for a new season beginning against No. 12 California on Saturday night, many coaches and players said the Virginia defeat serves as a reminder - a cautionary tale - of what can't be allowed to happen if this year's team is to succeed.

Last year's team was hindered by inconsistency; it was the team's hallmark. After the season ended, Friedgen seemed haunted by the gap between the team's potential and its performance, and contemplated ways to address his concerns.

Among the changes that emerged was a determination by Friedgen that the team identify a core of veteran players to clearly be in charge and guard against Virginia-style lapses. For the first time in his nine-year tenure at Maryland, the coach suggested that permanent captains be elected.

On the night of Aug. 28, the Terps assembled at the Gossett Football Team House. Each player received a "ballot" - a printed sheet listing the names of all the juniors and seniors - and circled his choice for offensive and defensive captains.

The four newly elected captains were asked to place their hands on Bibles and take oaths affirming their commitment to be leaders.

"He [Friedgen] would say a couple lines and we would say, 'I do,' " said quarterback Chris Turner, elected a captain along with center Phil Costa, cornerback Nolan Carroll and linebacker Adrian Moten. "By the end we were laughing. But it was serious, too."

Turner, a fifth-year player who enters the season seventh in career passing yards for Maryland, had expected to be a team leader, but this "reinforced it," he said.

"Because I was elected, that means a lot. I'm stoked about it. I was a little nervous because they could vote for anybody, and I didn't know I would get it," the quarterback said.

Friedgen will continue to rotate special teams captains from game to game. That way, players can be honored for their work in practice in a particular week. Friedgen and his players hope the captains can form an early-warning system to detect complacency or other problems before they become an issue. Maryland was infamous last season for playing down to weaker opponents, such as Virginia and Middle Tennessee State.

In the Virginia game alone, the offensive line was deemed by coaches to have made 14 mental errors - indicating a lack of focus. The team's 30 seniors called a players-only meeting two days after the game to assert themselves and try to dissect what had gone wrong. But the tone for the season had been set. Maryland's 8-5 finish was less than satisfying to nearly everyone associated with the team.

"Last year, there were so many seniors that it almost became a distraction in a way," Turner said. "The seniors that we had, they were veterans and they were talented, but they might have taken it for granted a little bit. There wasn't a lot of competition on the O-line, things like that. You don't want to call people out, but it can lead to some type of complacency."

Said Costa: "We had a lot of seniors last year. Maybe they felt entitled or something."

This year's team has just 14 seniors and only 28 players on the two-deep depth chart who have played in a game. A handful of true freshmen - including linebackers Darin Drakeford and Avery Murray, and kicker Nick Ferrara - made the 72-member travel squad.

"I've got a bunch of guys that have never played in a game before," Friedgen said. "They want to play [in a top bowl game] on January 1. I think that's an important thing for me."

Not only is Maryland young, but the Terps are also using a new pressing, blitzing defense created by incoming defensive coordinator Don Brown. Installing the intricate defense made it doubly important that players stayed focused during preseason practices.

The new captains appear to be taking their leadership roles seriously. On Monday, Friedgen told Costa, a fifth-year senior, that Maryland didn't seem sharp in practice. It was the first day of classes, and the team seemed distracted.

Costa relayed the message to the team. He said he told players: "We have to play full speed now if we want to play full speed in the game."

The captains are a blend of diverse personalities.

Moten, has a reputation - along with fellow linebacker Alex Wujciak - as one of the most talkative members of the team on the field.

Moten "is kind of outspoken. He's not afraid to show guys they're not working," Friedgen said. "He's had a couple confrontations on the team. I'm kind of happy he's one of the captains."

Then there is Carroll, the fifth-year cornerback who is about as quiet as a football player can be. "He might go the whole practice and not say a thing," Turner said.

Coaches say Carroll is a model player because he's so serious, studying game video and counseling younger players.

"He just comes to work every single day," said junior receiver Adrian Cannon, who has won a starting position and could emerge as a star. "I look up to him. Nolan has made me so much better."

Cannon, who has been primarily a reserve, is among the inexperienced players the Terps are counting on.

Friedgen concedes he doesn't know how his untested players will react to playing in their initial games. Cal was unbeaten at home last season.

Said Turner: "There are very few seniors, but we've been around and we have a link to the past. So we've got to teach the younger guys how to win and what to do and what to expect."

Friedgen hopes the young players won't be overwhelmed by the major-college atmosphere. "I've seen that look," the coach said, widening his eyes to illustrate panic.

Friedgen is hoping his players will be too cocky and inexperienced to be afraid. "Ignorance is bliss," he said.

Breaking it down

Here is a game-by-game look at Maryland's schedule:

@ California, Sept. 5 : - Cal returns 17 starters from the team that fell to the Terps last season in College Park. Running back Jahvid Best wants to erase the memory, memorialized by YouTube, of losing his breakfast on the field after a savage hit by Kevin Barnes.

James Madison, Sept. 12 : - The Dukes are more familiar with new Maryland defensive coordinator Don Brown's schemes than other schools. That's because they regularly played Massachusetts when Brown was head coach.

Middle Tennessee State, Sept. 19 : - Here comes a revenge game for Maryland, which was embarrassed last year at Middle Tennessee in Week 2 and had to answer annoying media questions about that loss for the rest of the season.

Rutgers, Sept. 26 : - Continuation of a series in which Chris Turner stepped in for an injured Jordan Steffy in 2007 and led the Terps to victory.

Clemson, Oct. 3 : - The Tigers have a new coach, Dabo Swinney, but the same star running back - C.J. Spiller - as when the Terps upset them last season and quieted the Death Valley crowd.

@ Wake Forest, Oct. 10 : - Quarterback Riley Skinner returns, but the Demon Deacons have only four returning starters from their imposing defense of a year ago.

Virginia, Oct. 17 : - Maryland gets a shot at redemption. The Terps fell, 31-0, to the Cavaliers last year in a game that precipitated much Maryland soul-searching and a players-only meeting.

@ Duke, Oct. 24 : - Turner gets the first shot of his career against Duke, which has a dangerous quarterback of its own in Thaddeus Lewis.

@ North Carolina State, Nov. 7 : - Returning quarterback Russell Wilson hurt the Terps last season with his mobility but couldn't pull off a Wolfpack win at Byrd Stadium.

Virginia Tech, Nov. 14 : - Maryland struggled as usual at Virginia Tech last season. At least the Terps get the Hokies - picked by ACC media to win the conference - at home.

@ Florida State, Nov. 21 : - The rugged Seminoles ended Maryland's divisional title hopes at Byrd Stadium last season. It won't be any easier for the Terps to beat the 'Noles this year on the road.

Boston College, Nov. 28 : - Eagles players danced after clinching a divisional title against the Terps last season. Less is expected of Boston College this year. The Eagles are picked behind Maryland by some pundits.

MARYLAND @NO. 12 CALIFORNIA

When: Saturday, 10 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 105.7 FM

INSIDE

Game-by-game look at UM's schedule. PG 6

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