Redskins.com intern Ross Leonhart is — like me, Larry Michael, and cornerback Kevin Barnes — a University of Maryland guy. He’s also a Redskins fan. So he seemed like a natural choice to talk to Terrapins and Redskins great Neal Olkewicz at the Mickey Steele Golf Celebrity Golf Tournament.
By Ross Leonhart
History wasn’t my best class, so I’m still learning about people and events that came before I was born. For example, despite being a proud Terp and a lifelong Redskins fan, I can’t necessarily pick linebacker Neil Olkewicz out of a crowd. But one thing I can recognize is the logo of iconic College Park bar R.J. Bentley’s, which Olkewicz was proudly sporting on his golf shirt at Friday’s 7th Annual Mickey Steele Celebrity Golf Tournament in Queenstown, Md.
Olkewicz joined the Redskins in 1979 after graduating from University of Maryland, where he established himself as a force at middle linebacker.
In his senior season at Maryland, the middle linebacker set the single-season record for tackles with 188. To put that in perspective, Alex Wujciak, the hugely productive middle linebacker for the Terps of the last few years (last mentioned on the blog here), would have needed to add three (or four, or five) more games to his best season in 2008 (133 tackles) to catch Olkewicz’s record. Olkewicz’s 138 tackle junior campaign is also in the record books, tied for 19th all-time.
At 54 years old, Olkewicz can’t contribute on the field anymore, but he still keeps a careful eye on his alma mater’s teams. He used to attend almost every football game until a recent move back to his native Philadelphia, and I was curious to hear his thoughts on the recent coaching changes.Last year, the Terps replaced head coach Ralph Friedgen after his 10-year tenure. I had the pleasure of covering Terps football during their 2-10 campaign two years ago, and found Friedgen to be a great coach, and an even better man. Friedgen set the school record with five bowl wins, and went to seven bowls total. Prior to Friedgen, the Terps had only one bowl appearance in the previous 15 years.
“I hated to see Friedgen go, but I’m hoping (Randy) Edsall comes in and takes them to the big bowls,” Olkewicz said, “because it would be nice to go back.”
Olkewicz should know his bowl games. He helped the Terps to a Gator Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Hall of Fame Bowl and Sun Bowl in his years at College Park, so it makes sense that he’d like to see the team get back to these prestigious bowls.
Friedgen lost the Orange Bowl in his first year, but went on to win the Peach Bowl and Gator Bowl in the next two seasons. But it was downhill from there. The bowl games following were the Champs Sports Bowl, Emerald Bowl, Humanitarian Bowl and Military Bowl.
Not only is the football team being revamped, but also Gary Williams stepped down after 22-years as the Maryland head basketball coach, and it seemed worthwhile to get Olkewicz’s thoughts on that move as well.
This is what the middle linebacker and I have in common; we both had the pleasure of calling Gary Williams our team’s basketball coach, and watch him sweat profusely and “politely” raise his voice.
“It was amazing to see Gary go. He’s such a great competitor and everything, so I was amazed,” Olkewicz said. “But he deserves a little rest time.”
Olkewicz himself is enjoying some hard-earned downtime; our Terps lineage actually crossed paths at Queenstown Harbor’s eighth tee, which also happened to be the hole-in-one-for-a-new-car spot. Just after we finished talking, Olkewicz lined up his shot, swung the club … and barely cleared the rough on his way to the green. His goal for the day, he said, was to not hit anybody with his ball, He seemed to be managing, but I sped away in a golf cart just to be safe.
Tags: neal olkewicz, ross leonhart, University of Maryland
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