“… It helped give us some history to want to play behind,” Maryland football honors 2001 team

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

20 years ago, Maryland football shocked the world.

Maryland once held great esteem in the world of college football, winning it’s first and only national championship in 1953. However, for nearly half a century, the program struggled to capture any meaningful success.

The 15 years prior to 2001 were especially dismal for the Terps. Maryland made only one bowl appearance and never registered a season with more than six wins.

Then Ralph Friedgen became head coach.

When Friedgen first came in, he asked all his players to vote on what their goals were. Among them, the consensus was clear. The goal was to win six games. 

“To be honest with you, I never think about winning six games,” Friedgen said. “I was kind of crushed, but I didn’t say anything.”

Friedgen brought forth a culture change, sustained excellence and Maryland immediately saw results. Maryland was a perfect 6-0 following an overtime win against Friedgen’s former team in No. 15 Georgia Tech. And it was then when he told the team his real goals for them.

“I went in and I said, ‘It’s time to set new goals. It’s time to set with confidence,’” said Friedgen.

Friedgen shared a similar sentiment when he met with the 2021 squad.

“Don’t listen to people who tell you that you can win this game and you’re going to lose that game,” Friedgen told the team Friday. “You plan on winning the next game. That’s all that matters. The next game.”

The appearance of the former coach, along with other past Terps, left a noticeable impression on the team.

“We had alumni at our practices this week along with coach [Friedgen], so it helped give us some history to want to play behind,” defensive lineman Mosiah Nasili-Kite said. “[We] just want to make them proud as well as our family, so it just put an extra chip on our shoulder.”

Current Terps head coach Mike Locksley was also a part of the 2001 squad, serving as their running backs coach. His contributions helped lead running back Bryce Perry earn ACC offensive player of the year honors as a sophomore.

Throughout his career patrolling sidelines and developing student-athletes, Friedgen developed a reputation as a confident character — who guaranteed improvement and better play. And in the decade he graced the program, he left an indelible mark, a level of success and a standard that Locksley has tried to recapture.

Locksley derived much of his coaching acumen from Friedgen and frequently refers to him as a mentor, but he also hopes the presence of former Maryland athletes will help further the program’s tradition of support.

“It’s really important that they understand that the brotherhood that is Maryland football transcends through generations,” Locksley said.

In Friedgen’s inaugural year as head coach, he was named coach of the year, the Terps finished the 2001 season with a 10-2 record and were ACC Conference champions. It was their only conference championship since 1986. 

“Practices were hard, obviously coach had us go hard, but it was a little more fun because we were winning,” said former two-time All-American linebacker E.J. Henderson on the team’s success under Friedgen. “Training table food tastes a little better. Study hall wasn’t as hot, you know what I mean?”

While honoring the 2001 roster that kickstarted the illustrious Friegden era, the homecoming festivities also included a celebration for Henderson. At Maryland Stadium, he celebrated his induction into the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame. He was a leader on defense, winning the ACC Defensive Player of the Year award in back-to-back years.

Maryland sported its all-red uniforms for the homecoming match against Indiana — a tradition that started with Freidgen’s team in 2001. 

“I think I am more popular now among the fan base than I was when I was coaching,” Friedgen said in a joking manner before he turned serious. “It’s really, really heartwarming to go through the parking lot and people just go nuts that you’re there and thanking you and wanting to high-five you, or fist you, or whatever. It really makes you feel warm inside that you feel like you did something with your life.”

Maryland put up a favorable performance with alumni present. The Terps held off the Indiana Hoosiers, 38-35.