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Sept. 16, 2010
By Bill Hass
And some lead by the force of their personality, pulling teammates together in good times and rallying them around him when things get tough.
Adrian Moten of Maryland unabashedly falls into the latter category.
The fifth-year senior, an outside linebacker, took it personally when the Terps struggled through a 2-10 season in 2009 and vowed there would be no repeat.
"Last year was one of the worst seasons I’ve ever had in any sport I’ve ever played," he said. "That was my motivation – I don’t want to ever lose like that again.
"I’m going to keep taking one game at a time, one play at a time, one second at a time. The more we keep doing that, the more we stay together when things get tough. When things get down and we still stay as one, we’re going to win a lot of games."
So far, so good. The Terps matched last season’s victory total by winning their first two games, something that hasn’t happened since 2001. They face a stiff test Saturday when they play at West Virginia, ranked No. 21. Moten sees the game as a prime opportunity.
"If we go in and beat those guys, we might have a shot at getting into the polls," Moten said. "That’s the biggest goal, trying to get into the top 25. And we’re trying to go to the ACC Championship and the Orange Bowl. Beating this kind of team will get us to that."
Brash talk? Perhaps. But Moten really is saying the same thing as coach Ralph Friedgen, who puts it a little more low-key. Friedgen was pleased with the way his team won a tough opener on national TV against Navy, then played well against Morgan State, a team it knew it should beat, six days later.
"Now we’re going to go and play a nationally ranked team in their territory and that’s something that we have to learn how to do also," Friedgen said. "I’m anxious to see how we do in that environment. If we can do well I think it will be … a sign that this team has really taken major steps in being a good football team."
Friedgen acknowledges that Moten is a "main spokesman" on the team who was elected the defensive captain as a junior. This season Friedgen is using game captains, but Moten’s role hasn’t changed.
"I’m the leader on the defense," Moten said. "I was a captain as a junior last year, so I was put in a leadership role early in my career. This year they’re looking at me the same way, being a leader on and off the field by not getting into trouble and doing the right things like going to class and not letting things off the field affect you on the field.
"I think things have been going pretty good and I’m just going to keep coaching the guys up as much as I know, give them as much wisdom as I can, pass on the knowledge that I have."
Last season the Terps had some individual playmakers on defense, including Moten, but the unit lacked cohesion and consistency. So far this season, they’ve shown they’re more together.
"We’ve got more guys who are confident in themselves." Moten said. "We trust each other now, we’ve got each other’s back when things to wrong.
"Another thing I like about the defense is we’re always together, we’re one unit. We gave ourselves the name ‘Big Red’ for a reason – we stand together as one.
"We've got guys who played as true freshmen and now they’re sophomores and have some games under their belts. They feel more comfortable about themselves and they’ve got a little more swagger about themselves now."
Of course, it helps when a fiery leader also contributes on the field, and Moten certainly does that. He had an interception against Morgan State, and made a play against Navy that was prominently shown on national sports shows.
On that one, with Navy threatening at the Maryland 1, Moten hurdled the offensive line, sacked quarterback Ricky Dobbs and caused a fumble that the Terps recovered.
"I try to make the best play, try to make the rights decisions for our team," Moten said. "They put me in positions where I can roam around and do things like that and that’s what I’m going to try to do, make a play.
"I just read that (the offensive linemen) were low every play; they were two feet off the ground. So I just thought I could get over top of them and make a play on Ricky Dobbs. I knew what play they like to run down there, so I just ran in and I just went over top of them."
Friedgen was as surprised as anyone when it happened.
"The one thing that Adrian has is tremendous football instincts," Friedgen said. "He’s always thinking. He did have a gap to secure, which he did, but to hurdle over the line and cause the fumble in a very big situation obviously was a big play in the game."
Moten said he remembered doing it once in practice but never in a game.
"I don’t know what the score was but I think it gave us a little boost," he said. "When people see a ridiculous play like that, they say ‘it’s time for me to get going, too.’ It got the game started for the whole defense."
Moten can play all three linebacker positions but for the last two years he has manned the "Sam" spot, lining up over the tight end. That’s where he believes he does his best work.
"I think I’m better in (that) space," he said. "I think I can cover tight ends, I think I can cover slots here and there, I think I have the ability to get out wide and check a receiver. I know what I can do and I like being in (that) space."
Friedgen said Moten "is playing as good as he’s ever played here at Maryland. I see him practicing better, I think he really has matured as a young man. I’m very proud of Adrian. I think he’s done a very good job and has a chance to be very successful in life."
A look at Moten’s academic career backs up what Friedgen said. Moten graduated with a degree in criminal justice in the spring. He could have returned for his fifth year and taken one class, but he chose to pursue a second degree in economics and is taking 12 hours.
"I felt I could graduate and get it over with, get the stress off my shoulders, the stress off my family’s shoulders," he said. "I’d be one of the first people from my family to actually graduate from college. It’s a blessing and I’m just happy that I did it."
Moten isn’t sure what the future holds. At 6-feet-2, 230 pounds, he should draw interest from NFL teams. But eventually football will end and then he’ll decide what to do with his life. Being a Law enforcement officer is something that has long interested him and Friedgen believes Moten would make an excellent coach.
Right now, though, his focus is on helping Maryland continue its success the rest of this season.
"I’m worried about winning games at Maryland and changing the atmosphere around here," Moten said. "I think it’s going pretty good, but there’s always room for more improvement.
"This week(’s game) is one of the biggest games in the country. We’ve got to contain their stars – they’re all fast, they all can run. But when you get everyone around the football, there’s nothing they can possibly do. (With) everybody doing their job, we’ll be fine.
"People will see that Maryland defense is gang-tackle defense, they’re going to swarm you every play, 11 men around the football, ready to knock you out."
And while he may not hurdle the offensive line again, don’t be surprised if Moten does something special.
"When you’re in a battle, you never know what you can do," he said.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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