The first time Bruce Perry opened his mouth in spring practice, Scott McBrien knew the senior running back was his old self again. Perry excitedly bounced around the Terrapins' practice fields, chattered constantly and talked trash to defenders. This was in contrast to the Perry who last fall quietly labored through abdominal, groin and shoulder injuries, which limited him to 341 yards rushing in six games. "The change in his demeanor really has been night and day," says McBrien, a senior quarterback.
That means Maryland, which had a 21-5 record over the last two years, including 11-3 last season, has its best offensive weapon back at full strength. Perry added 15 pounds to his 5'9" frame to get up to 207 and is ready to prove he's the same player who as a sophomore rushed for 1,242 yards and was the ACC's Offensive Player of the Year. "I think I'll bring some maturity and leadership to the offense," Perry says. "I'll help provide a sense of identity and an overall presence."
Although last season the Terps got an ACC-best 1,154 rushing yards from Chris Downs, who graduated, they missed Perry's electric performance. "He brings a lot to the table," McBrien says. "He's tough, he has speed, and he has great hands. Having a player like him takes a lot of pressure off me. You know he's going to get his yards."
As will McBrien, who as a first-year starter in 2002 threw for 2,497 yards and 15 touchdowns and had a 141.3 passing-efficiency rating. Six of his top seven wide receivers return from an offense that scored 32.2 points per game, as do three starters along the line. The defense, led by senior linebacker Leon Joe (103 tackles), is even more stacked.
It's no wonder that coach Ralph Friedgen preached against complacency during spring drills. "We've been successful the last two years because we were unselfish and we played for a common cause," Friedgen says. "Everybody had a role and played it well. We may have more talent now, but the question remains as to whether we can play together. The more you win, the harder that is to do."
Perry appreciates that message as much as anybody. He spent most of last season rising at 6 a.m. to rehab his injuries, futilely trying to practice and standing on the sideline on game days. This year he'll be making sure his teammates work hard. "I'm proof that we had better take advantage of our chances," Perry says, "because you never know when they'll be taken away."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]