Terps rely on fresh­men dur­ing Durkin’s first year

Young play­ers con­trib­ute to team near­ing bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Don Markus

COL­LEGE PARK — As new Mary­land foot­ball coach DJ Durkin and his staff were try­ing to add play­ers to their first re­cruit­ing class last win­ter, they knew there was a strong pos­si­bil­ity many of the prospects would need to play as true fresh­men in 2016.

When the play­ers be­gan prac­tic­ing, it be­came ap­par­ent to Durkin and his co­or­di­na­tors that the num­ber was growing by the day. And that group of true fresh­men play­ing for the Terps has in­creased even more since the sea­son be­gan.

“We knew com­ing in, es­pe­cially after spring foot­ball and you saw your lim­i­ta­tions from a depth stand­point, we knew there’d be a large ma­jor­ity of those kids even if they weren’t ready, es­pe­cially by this time of year, [who] would have to be ready,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Walt Bell said this week.

Go­ing into to­day’s game at In­di­ana (3-4, 1-3), the Terps list 11 true fresh­men, as well as four red­shirt fresh­men, on their two-deep ros­ter. Wade Lees, a 28-year-old Aus­tralian punter, is the only true fresh­man to start ev­ery game. Guard Ter­rance Davis has started the past three.

In con­trast, the Hoosiers have 11 true and

red­shirt fresh­men on their two-deep ros­ter, three of them starters.

Though Lees, Davis and run­ning back Lorenzo Har­ri­son started in the 28-17 win over Michi­gan State last Satur­day at Mary­land Sta­dium, Durkin es­ti­mated af­ter­ward that “12 to 15 [true fresh­men] played sig­nif­i­cant snaps.”

“I don’t think I’ve been any­where where there’s that many true fresh­men play­ing … but they’re play­ing well, they’re play­ing at a high level,” he said this week.

Durkin said it be­gan after he was hired in De­cem­ber.

Though he wound up los­ing a few big-name prospects who had com­mit­ted to or were se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing Mary­land, Durkin signed 23 play­ers in Fe­bru­ary in a class ranked 43rd na­tion­ally by ESPN.

“I’m re­ally pleased with the re­cruit­ing class our staff was able to put to­gether, what­ever it was, a month or a month and a half of re­cruit­ing when we all got here,” Durkin said this week. “It’s re­mark­able, and it says a lot about the lo­cal tal­ent we have here. Our for­mula is to con­tinue to build with the guys we have in this area.”

While the num­ber of true fresh­men who’ll start against the Hoosiers is un­known be­cause of in­juries, there’s a good chance the same num­ber, or pos­si­bly more, will play.

“You see them out there com­pet­ing in the Big Ten; they don’t look out of place. If you didn’t know [they were fresh­men], you wouldn’t know,” Durkin said. “It’s crit­i­cal for the long term. We’re build­ing this thing

By the num­bers

Fresh­men who’ve played: 15 Starts by fresh­men: 7 To­tal plays: 1,578 Of­fen­sive yards: 1,073 Touch­downs by fresh­men: 12 for the long term.

“At the same time, we have some vet­eran, older, ex­pe­ri­enced guys that are play­ing very well for us right now, too. I think that’s how you build a pro­gram the right way. We’re play­ing a lot of guys, play­ing a lot of guys at all po­si­tions, and that’s to build the depth on our ros­ter and con­tinue to make us bet­ter for the long haul.”

The com­bi­na­tion has put the Terps on the brink of be­com­ing bowl-el­i­gi­ble with their sixth win, some­thing most didn’t think Durkin’s team would do in his first sea­son.

Durkin said get­ting to a bowl this year “is not some­thing we ever talked about or spoke about. It’s to be the best team we can be week to week. When you take care of stuff that way, at the end of the sea­son you find your­self where you want to be.”

Har­ri­son, this week’s Big Ten Fresh­man of the Week after rush­ing for 105 yards and a touch­down against Michi­gan State, has re­ceived most of the spot­light as the team’s lead­ing rusher.

“Even the guys that don’t play a lot, like [of­fen­sive line­man Brian] Plum­mer, I think he’s go­ing to be a great player,” ju­nior de­fen­sive tackle Kings­ley Opara said. “Tino [Ellis, who has started one game at cor­ner­back,] is a great player. This is a great re­cruit­ing class. It’s go­ing to be one that’s go­ing to start the trend of some­thing spe­cial at Mary­land.”

Opara said it will help in a re­cruit­ing process that has al­ready ramped up for the Terps, who have oral com­mit­ments from 19 play­ers in the 2017 class ESPN ranked 17th na­tion­ally this week.

“I think it’s big, it’s re­ally big. You can see with the class we have com­ing to­gether now, peo­ple are start­ing to pay at­ten­tion to Mary­land,” Opara said. “I think that if I was in the re­cruit­ing game, I would look at Mary­land be­cause of what you see Coach Durkin do­ing, and he is play­ing a lot of young guys and those guys are pro­duc­ing.”

Bell and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Andy Buh said the jump-start to the mat­u­ra­tion process be­gan in pre­sea­son camp, when Durkin had the team prac­tice in smaller groups for the play­ers, es­pe­cially the fresh­men, to get more rep­e­ti­tions.

“Even from a vol­ume stand­point, it may have been a lit­tle much for the older guys, but it’s what those younger guys needed,” Bell said.

Said Buh, who of­ten pairs older play­ers and younger play­ers, par­tic­u­larly in the sec­ondary, dur­ing games: “We’re ex­tremely ex­cited about the guys that are play­ing. We’re root­ing for them. We coach them hard. They take coach­ing re­ally well. Their youth is go­ing to show in places, but as long as they’re play­ing hard for us, we’ve got a chance.”

While in­juries haven’t wrecked Mary­land’s de­fense, the Terps have been hard­est hit in the most vul­ner­a­ble area — the sec­ondary. After los­ing se­nior safety Den­zel Cony­ers with a torn ACL at Cen­tral Florida on Sept. 17, Mary­land stayed rel­a­tively healthy un­til the past two weeks.

In a 31-10 loss at home to Min­nesota, the Terps saw se­nior All-Big Ten cor­ner­back Will Likely go down after muff­ing a punt in the sec­ond quar­ter. The day be­fore last week’s game against Michi­gan State, it was an­nounced that Likely would be out for the sea­son, also with a torn ACL. Fresh­man Eli­jah Daniels and sopho­more RaVon Davis, a ju­nior col­lege trans­fer, stepped in for Likely.

Then sopho­more safety Dar­nell Sav­age Jr. hurt his knee against the Spar­tans.

In came true fresh­man Qwuantrezz Knight, who could make his first start against In­di­ana if Sav­age is not ready to go.

“I don’t think we missed a beat with him in there,” Buh said of Knight.

Buh said Knight’s prepa­ra­tion and con­fi­dence have helped him pre­pare for a big­ger role.

“It’s not odd to see him in there at 5:30 in the morn­ing watch­ing film,” Buh said. “He re­ally cares about his game, and he sees him­self as a starter. That’s the big­gest thing with th­ese young guys. When you take a guy that sees him­self as a starter, it’s eas­ier for him to go play like one.”

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Punter Wade Lees is one of 11 true fresh­men on the Terps’ two-deep ros­ter and the only one to start ev­ery game this sea­son.

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