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Friedgen Becomes the Singing Coach

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ATLANTA — Ralph Friedgen didn't think he'd be singing so much.

After his first victory, the coach hoisted himself atop a podiumto lead the Maryland band in a rendition of the school's fightsong. Although comparable to a bad lounge act, Friedgen'sperformance became tradition with the No. 22 Terrapins, who are offto a surprising 5-0 start.

"It's really out of character for me," said Friedgen, whoseteam meets 15th-ranked Georgia Tech on Thursday night. "I feellike an idiot. But if that's what turns the fans on, I'll do justabout anything to get people excited in this program."

Make no mistake, they're excited. The Terrapins are off to theirbest start since 1978, when a Jerry Claiborne-coached team won itsfirst eight games before finishing 9-3. The program fell on hardtimes over the past 15 seasons, managing just two winning seasonsand one bowl trip while going through three coaches.

Enter Friedgen, who can clinch a winning season and make histeam eligible for a bowl with a victory over the Yellow Jackets.More important, the Terrapins can maintain their hold on firstplace in the Atlantic Coast Conference, having won their firstthree league games.

"I have an opportunity to unite this place, to get some spiritback at this place," he said. "And I'm having one hell of a timedoing it. I feel so fulfilled right now, I wouldn't want to be atany other place."

Friedgen spent the past four seasons as offensive coordinator atGeorgia Tech (4-1, 1-1 ACC), which has remained one of the topoffensive teams in the country, with Bill O'Brien calling theplays.

The Yellow Jackets are averaging 39.8 points and 460 yards pergame, their only loss coming in a game in which they scored 44points.

"Billy is very, very quick on the draw, which is the sign of agood coordinator," coach George O'Leary said. "Billy is doing asgood a job as I expected from him when it comes to putting pointson the board. That's the bottom line."

After losing to Clemson at home, Georgia Tech can't affordanother defeat if it hopes to remain a serious contender in the ACC- especially with a road trip to Florida State at the end of theseason.

"Maryland has a little room for error," quarterback GeorgeGodsey said. "We don't."

In a 37-10 victory over hapless Duke, the Yellow Jackets defensebounced back from its dreadful performance against Clemson's WoodyDantzler.

"It didn't completely get rid of the taste, but it did a littlebit," safety Jeremy Muyres said. "We decided to go out, flyaround, have some fun. Hopefully, it will carry over to thisweek."

Maryland, however, is a much more potent team than Duke,averaging 34.6 points and 419 yards even though Friedgen hasn'tinstalled all elements of his complex offense. Sophomore BrucePerry leads the nation with an average of 164.2 yards per gamerushing.

"It's really going to be a weird," Muyres said. "This is thesame offense I've been looking at the last two years in practice,with all the shifts and motion. I always wondered how the otherteam prepared for our offense. Now, we're the ones having to getready for it."

Perry could find plenty of running room up the middle.Linebacker Daryl Smith is out for at least a couple of more weekswith an elbow injury. His replacement, Ather Brown, is doubtfulbecause of a sore foot.

If Brown can't play, Nigerian-born Tabugbo Anyansi - only6-foot-1 and 215 pounds - will start at middle linebacker. TheYellow Jackets have tried to bolster their depth by shifting No. 1fullback Ross Mitchell - a former linebacker - back to his originalposition.

Friedgen's appearance as Maryland's lead singer had its originsduring two-a-day practices, when he stopped to chat with the band.

"They asked me if I could sing the fight song. They didn'tthink I knew it," he recalled. "Well, I'm a graduate of thisschool. Of course I knew it. I told them, 'The next time I'll singit is at 4 o'clock after our first victory."'

They didn't have to wait long. Maryland defeated North Carolina23-7 in the opener, and Friedgen kept his word. Now, he's expectedto give an encore every week.

"I try to stand in the background, but they keep egging me tocome up," he said. "I can't see anybody getting excited about mesinging on top of a platform, but they do."