COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — For nine months, coach Randy Edsall and the players on the Maryland football team have been forced to live with the indignity that comes with a 2-10 season.
Now, finally, they have an opportunity to change the public perception of the program.
Maryland opens the 2012 season Saturday at home against William & Mary. The significance of the game for the Terrapins cannot be understated.
“There are a lot of people who doubt what we can do,” said Edsall, now in his second season at Maryland. “We have a chance to go out and show who we are and what we are all about.”
After taking over for Ralph Friedgen in January 2011, Edsall launched a new era of Maryland football with a 32-24 Atlantic Coast Conference win over Miami. The Terrapins showed off their new uniforms in a nationally televised game before sellout crowd.
That, unfortunately, was the high point of the season. The Terrapins won only one more game, against FCS foe Towson, before closing with eight straight defeats.
“We started last season on a good note. We just couldn’t prolong it,” defensive end A.J. Francis said. “This year, hopefully we can mimic that first week of success and build off of it. Hopefully, this can be a great year for us.”
It wasn’t a very good summer for the Terrapins, who lost several players to injury — most notably starting quarterback C.J. Brown (torn right ACL). That means true freshman Perry Hills will be running the offense behind a relatively inexperienced line.
Hills will learn under fire against a William & Mary team that knows all about facing ACC foes on the road. The Tribe beat Virginia in the 2009 opener and led North Carolina in the fourth quarter in 2010. Last year, however, a 40-3 loss to Virginia sent them spiraling to a 5-6 record.
“The guys have been pretty consistent about working to improve,” coach Jimmye Laycock said. “Once we get a ready to play a game, we’ll see.”
After Saturday, William & Mary, of the Colonial Athletic Association, will face such teams such as Georgia State, Penn and Maine. None of those teams have the history and tradition — or the size — of Maryland.
“We’re playing against a very established program,” Laycock said. “These are games that stay with them for the rest of their lives. It’s an opportunity once a year for them to try themselves out and challenge themselves against a bigger school, a bigger program and at a bigger stadium, and see what you can do. To me, that’s all part of their college football experience.”
The last thing Maryland needs to lose at home against an FCS opponent, so the Terrapins will not be taking the Tribe lightly.
“That’s a good football team,” right tackle Justin Gilbert said. “Some of the guys have 30-some starts. They’re a get-to-the-ball team, very physical.”
For the Tribe, losers of nine of their last 10 openers, a victory would be something to cherish for the rest of their lives. For Maryland, a win would be the first step toward moving beyond that 2-10 disaster.
“We want to get Maryland football back on track, and I think we’re heading in the right direction,” All-ACC defensive lineman Joe Vellano said.
“This is it,” Gilbert said. “All the hard work you’ve done is about to pay off in that first game.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)