COLLEGE PARK – To start the University of Maryland football media day inside the Gossett Football Team House on Aug. 2, new Head Coach Mike Locksley called the start of training camp “Christmas in August.”
It was an appropriate way to kick off a new era in College Park, one that feels fresh but also has a lot of familiarity. Locksley was hired to take over the program in December, his third stint at Maryland, including six games as the interim coach in 2015 after then-Head Coach Randy Edsall was fired.
However, Locksley’s most recent stop at Alabama is the biggest influence on how he plans to run the program at Maryland. In three years with the Crimson Tide, including one last year as the offensive coordinator, he got a first-hand look at Head Coach Nick Saban’s famed “Process.” He will look to bring that approach to the Terps.
“For us to move forward and have the success we want to have, it starts with developing the daily habits and behaviors,” Locksley said. “How you act, how you perform, how you discipline, how you’re accountable. Those are the things as a coach we can control, once you get inside those white lines if they have the kind of habits and kind of behaviors, success usually follows. That’s something I’ve been a part of the past three years and it works.”
While Locksley and his staff work at developing the culture off the field, Maryland’s roster on the field will have plenty of talent in some spots but is lacking in others.
Anthony McFarland Jr. (DeMatha Catholic High School) should be the main running back again after a breakout freshman campaign in which he set a school freshman record with 1,034 rushing yards.
“(He’s) probably one of the more unique combinations of speed and quickness that I’ve seen in a long time when he has in the football in his hands,” new Offensive Coordinator Scottie Montgomery said.
The redshirt sophomore will be joined in the backfield by junior Javon Leake, who saw limited touches last season but still scored a team-high seven touchdowns on just 23 carries. Maryland has a young but talented group of receivers as well, including a solid sophomore class led by Jeshaun Jones.
With a lot of the talent at the skill positions, the biggest question for Maryland on offense remains at quarterback. Kasim Hill, who started 10 games last season before tearing the ACL in his left knee against Indiana on Nov. 10, entered the transfer portal and is no longer listed on Maryland’s active roster. Redshirt junior Tyrrell Pigrome started the last two games but tweaked his knee late in spring practice and sat out the spring game as a precautionary measure. Redshirt freshman Tyler DeSue took advantage and was named the game’s MVP in his absence.
The biggest name at the position though is Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson, who will be immediately eligible after graduating in May. Following a stellar freshman year in Blacksburg, Jackson missed the final ten games of his sophomore season with a broken leg.
“You can tell he’s been there before,” Jones said. “I feel like he’s poised and doesn’t get shaken up. He keeps us all together.”
On defense, the Terps face the annual question of whether they have enough depth in the trenches. They lost starting defensive ends Jesse Aniebonam and Byron Cowart to graduation, and rotational defensive tackle Adam McLean left the team after spring practice. At linebacker, they have to replace All-Big Ten performer Tre Watson.
To fill the void, and the new 3-4 defense under Jon Hoke, Maryland added Clemson’s Shaq Smith and Ohio State’s Keandre Jones (Our Lady of Good Counsel). Both look like starters at the position and will be leaders and mentors for rising sophomores Chance Campbell and Ayinde Eley (Good Counsel).
“These aren’t guys who have come in with egos and said ‘I’ve played and won a national championship,’ as much as it’s been ‘These are the things we have done where I’ve been,” Locksley said of Jones and Smith. “These are the habits and behaviors we’ve had to win and to be successful.’”
Expectations are low nationally following Maryland’s 4-8 record last season. But the team thinks that with the talent recruited into the program in the past few recruiting cycles and key impact transfers, they could exceed expectations.
“I just feel like a lot of people are sleeping on us,” Leake said. “But they don’t really know the talent that we got in the room.”