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LaMont who? Maryland’s Perry is No. 1 rusher

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Bruce Perry began the season as one of a trio of running backs seeking to take over for LaMont Jordan, the leading rusher in Maryland history.

Perry, named the starter just before the season opener, has taken the job and run with it.

The 5-foot-9 sophomore is the Division I-A leader with 175 yards rushing per game. Perry has peeled off three straight 100-yard games, including a 276-yard effort against Wake Forest last week that included touchdown runs of 80 and 50 yards.

"Every scrimmage and every game this fall he has gotten better," coach Ralph Friedgen said Tuesday. "I'm more impressed with some of the smaller runs he makes than the larger ones."

Even though Perry has a knack for eluding or bouncing off 300-pound linemen, he has been told for years that he's not big enough to be a running back.

"I still hear, 'Too small.' Not that much anymore, but it's always there," Perry said. "I don't mind. I just go out and play football. That's what I do."

Quite well, actually.

"He's really turned into an exceptional back," Friedgen said. "He gives us a guy who can hit a home run at any time."

Throughout the spring and for much of the summer, Friedgen was relentless in his effort to get Perry to run straight ahead instead of deking sideways behind the line of scrimmage.

"I guess you could say it clicked in after you hear him screaming in your ear every five minutes, 'Go north and south!' " Perry said. "You kind of get frustrated and say, 'OK, I'll go north and south!' Just hearing it over and over in the spring and then in the summer, it was time to make a change."

Once the message took hold, Perry distanced himself from Marc Riley and Jason Crawford, moving to the top of the depth chart as the heir to Jordan.

Now, incredibly, Perry is averaging 7.8 yards per carry, and the undefeated Terrapins (3-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) stand alone atop the ACC for the first time since 1987. Perry is nursing a sore hamstring, but he promised to be ready Saturday when Maryland seeks to go 4-0 for only the second time since 1978.

"It's not about my yardage. It's about us winning," Perry said.

Maybe, but his 276-yard performance was the second-best in school history and his 525 yards rushing is 162 more than Jordan had after three games in 1999, when the current backup with the New York Jets set the Maryland record for ground yardage in a season (1,632).

It's all pretty heady stuff for a player who gained only 195 yards in 30 carries as a freshman before taking last year off as a redshirt sophomore.