Likely out for sea­son

Torn ACL ends corner­back’s Terps ca­reer

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

Amid the ex­cite­ment of Mary­land’s first night foot­ball game un­der coach DJ Durkin came sober­ing news Fri­day: Se­nior corner­back Will Likely III will be out for the re­main­der of the sea­son with a torn ACL, end­ing his ca­reer as a Terp.

Likely, who re­turned to Col­lege Park af­ter a record-set­ting ju­nior year to get his de­gree and im­prove his po­si­tion in the NFL draft, was in­jured early in the sec­ond quar­ter of last week’s 31-10 home loss to Min­nesota af­ter muff­ing a punt re­turn.

Look­ing to end a two-game los­ing streak af­ter start­ing 4-0 in Durkin’s first sea­son with the Terps, Mary­land will host slump­ing Michi­gan State (2-4, 0-3) tonight at 7:30. The Spar­tans will be try­ing to break a four-game los­ing streak, the long­est in coach Mark Dan­to­nio’s 10 years with the pro­gram.

A Mary­land ath­letic de­part­ment spokesman said the sta­tus of fifth-year se­nior quar­ter­back Perry Hills, who sat out last week af­ter rein­jur­ing his right shoul­der in a 38-14 loss at Penn State two weeks ago, will be a game-time de­ci­sion, ac­cord­ing to Durkin.

True fresh­man Tyrrell Pi­grome has Will Likely III was hop­ing to use his se­nior sea­son to im­prove his draft po­si­tion.

played in Hills’ ab­sence since the end of the first half of the game against the Nit­tany Lions.

While con­tin­u­ing to list Hills and Likely as starters for Michi­gan State through Thurs­day, Durkin said Mon­day that the train­ing staff and team doc­tors were still try­ing to de­ter­mine what “course of ac­tion” would be taken with the two in­jured play­ers.

On Thurs­day, Durkin said he hoped to have the sta­tus of one of the play­ers fig­ured out by Fri­day. That player was Likely. In a state­ment re­leased by the ath­letic de­part­ment Fri­day that an­nounced Likely’s sea­son-end­ing in­jury, Durkin said: “In the short time I’ve been here at Mary­land, I un­der­stand and have a great ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the sig­nif­i­cant im­pact Will Likely has had on our foot­ball pro­gram.

“Will was one of the first peo­ple I met with when I ac­cepted this job and it was quickly ap­par­ent how much he meant to his team­mates and Mary­land foot­ball.”

Likely came into his fi­nal sea­son hop­ing to build on his re­sume as a two-time All-Big Ten corner­back and All-Amer­ica re­turn spe­cial­ist last year while con­tin­u­ing to add to his reper­toire by con­tribut­ing as a slot re­ceiver. As a ju­nior, Likely was third in the na­tion in com­bined kick- and punt-re­turn yards with 1,197.

Though Likely led the Terps in pass breakups and passes de­fended this sea­son — three of each — and was third on the team with 32 tack­les, he had only one long kick­off re­turn (64 yards against Cen­tral Florida, while the other seven at­tempts went for 155 yards) and op­pos­ing teams had not given him much room to work with on punt re­turns (eight for 26 yards).

De­spite what he had shown of­fen­sively last sea­son, par­tic­u­larly af­ter then-of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike Lock­sley be­came the team’s in­terim coach when Randy Ed­sall was fired, Likely had played a limited role this sea­son. In six games, Likely had caught just one pass, los­ing 5 yards, and had two rushes for 15 yards.

As a ju­nior, Likely was one of the few rea­sons for Mary­land fans to watch a 3-8 team.

Start­ing with a Big Ten sin­gle-gamere­cord 233 yards in punt re­turns in the sea­son opener against Rich­mond, Likely had three re­turns for touch­downs — two on punts as well as a 100-yard re­turn against Iowa. Likely fin­ished with six school records, and is sec­ond in kick­off-re­turn yardage (2,233) to Tor­rey Smith.

Likely’s two in­ter­cep­tion re­turns for touch­downs are tied for the most in school his­tory, and his 170 yards af­ter the three passes he picked off as a sopho­more are a school record. Both of the in­ter­cep­tion re­turns for touch­downs came dur­ing his sopho­more year — an 88-yarder against Syra­cuse and a 45-yarder against Iowa.

Likely also had one in­ter­cep­tion as a fresh­man, but none as a ju­nior or a se­nior. That was largely the re­sult of the re­spect op­pos­ing teams showed for the 5-foot-7, 176-pound corner­back who as a ju­nior at Glades Cen­tral High in Belle Glade was Florida’s Ga­torade Player of the Year.

Mainly be­cause of his size, Likely was con­sid­ered a mid- to late-round NFL draft prospect had he de­cided to leave af­ter his ju­nior sea­son.

Be­cause of the re­cov­ery and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion time for a torn ACL — typ­i­cally six to nine months or longer — Likely will not be able to show off his ath­leti­cism at the NFL scouting com­bine in late Fe­bru­ary and might not even be fully re­cov­ered for Terps corner­back Will Likely III, who was also a threat on of­fense, car­ries the ball as An­thony Wint (53) and Niko Gon­za­lez con­verge on him in the Terps’ win over FIU on Sept. 9. Mary­land’s Pro Day in the spring.

The loss of Likely is a blow to a de­fense that is al­ready with­out se­nior safety Den­zel Cony­ers, who suf­fered a torn ACL last month at UCF.

Likely’s place on de­fense is ex­pected to be taken by sopho­more RaVon Davis or true fresh­man Eli­jah Daniels. Likely’s job as a re­turner is ex­pected to be filled by se­nior Teldrick Morgan (Meade) or sopho­more D.J. Moore.

Speak­ing on Wed­nes­day about Likely’s ab­sence for nearly three quar­ters last week, de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Andy Buh said: “Ob­vi­ously, los­ing Will in a foot­ball game, that’s a ma­jor hit to us be­cause he does have a pres­ence about him and he’s been here. Guys look up to him and lis­ten to him.”

For now, he will serve as a men­tor and unofficial coach for his team­mates.

“He will con­tinue to play a vi­tal role in our pro­gram as we lean on him for his lead­er­ship and ex­pe­ri­ence,” Durkin said in a state­ment. “I am con­fi­dent Will has the work ethic, drive and fo­cus to over­come this in­jury and con­tinue his foot­ball ca­reer at the next level.”

Buh re­called hear­ing what some of Likely’s team­mates were say­ing on the side­line last week af­ter the Mary­land cap­tain was in­jured.

“I over­head guys say­ing, ‘Let’s do this for Will, let’s bat­tle for him,’ ” Buh said. “That’s kind of been our motto. We’re a team; we’re to­gether. One guy does not make our foot­ball team, def­i­nitely not our de­fense. But los­ing a leader like that in a foot­ball game, I thought we had just to move on. I thought our guys re­sponded in that sit­u­a­tion.”

CHRIS KNIGHT/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

DAVID SANTIAGO/TNS

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