COLLEGE PARK, Md. - After one year, 10 losses and the exodus of more than two dozen players, Maryland coach Randy Edsall and his team have finally adjusted to each other.
Now, just when it appeared as if the Terrapins were ready to move forward, another major situation has popped up.
C.J. Brown, the only quarterback on the team with playing experience, is lost for the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee during practice on Tuesday. That means one of two true freshmen, Perry Hills or Caleb Rowe, will start the Sept. 1 opener against William & Mary.
If Maryland is to bounce back from a 2-10 season, Edsall and his players must work together to overcome the devastating loss of arguably the most important athlete on the team.
"We're disappointed and upset that injury has occurred to C.J., but none of the expectations or the enthusiasm or the excitement that we have for this season has been taken away from us," Edsall, a Susquehannock High School graduate, insisted.
Upon taking over for long-time football coach Ralph Friedgen in January 2011, Edsall had to determine who to trust, who to lean upon for leadership and who had the talent and drive to make a difference in the fourth quarter.
The players needed time to learn about Edsall, too. He immediately laid down a strict set of rules that included a dress code in the team complex. He carefully monitored academic performance, was intolerant of mistakes on the practice field and so adamant about team unity that he would not allow names on the back of jerseys.
Following an adjustment period that led to the an embarrassing 2-10 season, Edsall and the Terrapins are eager to make things right in 2012.
"I think the biggest change coach Edsall has made is that he understands who we are as people," said A.J. Francis, a fifth-year defensive end and one of 17 seniors on the squad. "For example, when he came in last year, he didn't know me from anybody else. He still t reats us the same and with respect, but he didn't know who he could go to with certain issues and didn't know how to handle things. He needed to put his stamp on the program. Now he understands us, he loves us, we love playing for him and love him as a coach. We're here, and everybody's that's still here is just ready to go out and do everything for him."
Following a season that would best be forgotten, Maryland intends to use last year as motivation.
"A 2-10 season, that's nothing to be excited about," senior linebacker Kenny Tate said. "When I was home during bowl break, I thought to myself, 'Never again.' Everybody was thinking like that."
That includes Edsall, who hasn't let up on stressing the importance of academics and dedication to the team but has relented on his policy of names on jerseys. He also brought in new coordinators for the offense and defense in an effort to get the Terrapins back on track.
Maryland also has a new turf field, anoth er symbol of the difference between this year and last.
"I want all of our players to have a chip on their shoulder because I do. You hope that your players reflect your desire, attitude and determination," Edsall said. "I want our guys to understand that this is a whole new year. Things have transpired from an academic standpoint, to our field, to the uniforms, and the young men who are here. Everything that I have envisioned when I came here is coming together. Now what we have to do is go out on the field and win. Now what I want are the kids to go out and enjoy the success of winning on Saturday afternoon. It takes a price to go out and practice the right way and prepare to win on a consistent basis. If we do that then we will be fine. Everything has led right to where we want it to be."
Well, except for the quarterback position. The idea was slowly work Hills and Rowe into the mix, but now they're being asked to carry the offense from the outset. Hills has t hus far been more impressive in practice and moved to the top of the depth chart.
"We're going to be fine there," Edsall said. "They've absorbed a lot in a short period of time and I'm pleased with where they're at right now."
Senior Kerry Boykins had 37 catches last year, and top-tier recruit Stefon Diggs is expected to contribute immediately as a receiver. The running back position is a question mark, however, as sophomore Justus Pickett is the only returnee to rush for more than 100 yards last season.
Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart inherits a unit that was ripped for 411 points and 5,486 yards in 2011. Stewart installed a 3-4 alignment designed to take advantage of a host of talented linebackers and a front line keyed by Francis and standout Joe Vellano.
"We all have the utmost confidence in this scheme we're running," Tate said. "I have a great feeling about this season. This is the second year with this coaching staff, and people are a lot m ore familiar with the environment. I think everybody, from coach Edsall down, sees us being better."