LEAKE

Baltimore Sun - - WEATHER -

sea­son, Leake is “1B,” ac­cord­ing to first-year coach Mike Lock­sley. He has also re­placed John­son as the team’s kick­off re­turner. De­spite catch­ing just one pass in his first two years, Leake is viewed as a re­ceiv­ing threat, both out of the back­field and in the slot.

“Po­si­tion flex­i­bil­ity with Leake is prob­a­bly the most ex­cit­ing thing as far as him be­ing one of our weapons, not just out of the back­field but be­ing able to be aligned in dif­fer­ent po­si­tions, and then un­der­stand­ing the of­fense from a run-game, pass-game stand­point,” of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Scot­tie Mont­gomery said ear­lier this month.

“We’re also re­ally ex­cited to have him as a re­turner for us on spe­cial teams. As you guys all know, the closer we get the ball to the goal line, it gives us a bet­ter chance to score. … He’s ex­tremely fast. He doesn’t mind run­ning it be­tween the tack­les. He can get the ball to the perime­ter, he can block on edge, he can do all those things.”

Run­ning backs coach Eli­jah Brooks, who as head coach at nearby DeMatha Catholic High coached both McFar­land and Harrison, is ex­cited about Leake’s ver­sa­til­ity. It has led to Leake be­ing named to the Paul Hor­nung Award pre­sea­son watch list. The award typ­i­cally goes to one of the na­tion’s lead­ers in all-pur­pose yards.

“Javon is a big play wait­ing to hap­pen ev­ery time he touches the ball,” Brooks said in the spring. “He has an Eric Dick­er­son run­ning style [tall and up­right], but one cut and he can score from any­where on the field. It’s scary to think as he pro­gresses how good he can be. And we have a long way to go. So far, it’s ev­i­dent how good he is.”

Leake is ex­cited about the of­fense Lock­sley, who coached run­ning backs in his first stint at Maryland un­der Ralph Fried­gen, has brought with him from Alabama. It’s an of­fense that re­lies on its run­ning back to use power, play­ing smash­mouth football, as well as their speed, elu­sive­ness and abil­ity to catch passes out of the back­field.

In essence, it’s the op­po­site of what the Terps used last sea­son un­der in­terim coach/of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Matt Canada, who re­lied mostly on the jet sweep. Leake showed flashes of his ver­sa­til­ity, in­clud­ing a four-touch­down game last sea­son against Illi­nois in which he fin­ished with 274 all-pur­pose yards. He was named the Big Ten’s Of­fen­sive and Spe­cial Teams Player of the Week.

“It gets to show what I can bring a lot more. It puts me at dif­fer­ent places on the field and it gets to show my ver­sa­til­ity,” Leake said. “This of­fense suits me a lot bet­ter and I ran that in high school with the shot­gun.”

At Page High School in Greens­boro, N.C., Leake rushed for nearly 4,000 yards, with more than 3,500 of them coming his last two years. He av­er­aged more than seven yards a carry as a ju­nior. He scored 59 rush­ing touch­downs, 29 of them as a se­nior. But be­cause of his size (6 feet, 206 pounds) and speed, he was re­cruited nearly as much as a po­ten­tial cor­ner­back or safety.

Iron­i­cally, one of those re­cruit­ing him for de­fense was Mont­gomery, who was go­ing into his first sea­son as head coach at East Carolina.

“We were try­ing to find a dif­fer­ent way to get him in the build­ing,” Mont­gomery re­called. “We thought he had a great skill set for de­fen­sive back. We also thought he had a great skill set for run­ning back. He was just a re­ally unique ta­lent. The first time I saw him, not quite as filled out as he is now, he was such a big guy that could go play the cor­ner po­si­tion, go play the safety po­si­tion, but also help you on of­fense.”

Mont­gomery said Leake was one of first play­ers he saw when he got to Col­lege Park after be­ing named of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

“He was smil­ing from ear to ear,” Mont­gomery said.

Mont­gomery’s hir­ing also helped Leake, who had pre­vi­ously told some team­mates he had been re­cruited as a two-way player.

“His team­mates didn’t be­lieve he could pos­si­bly be re­cruited on both sides of the ball, so he had to come to me for val­i­da­tion of that,” Mont­gomery said with a smile.

Asked how good a cor­ner­back he was, Leake said, smil­ing, “I was re­ally good.”

How good Leake might be in an ex­panded role this sea­son will be on dis­play when the Terps open the sea­son Aug. 31 against Howard. Ac­cord­ing to Lock­sley, Leake has had a strong pre­sea­son camp, in­clud­ing a solid per­for­mance in last week’s first scrim­mage. A prac­tice clip of Leake mak­ing a move on a would-be tack­ler and run­ning into the clear made the rounds last week.

McFar­land, whose hur­dle over de­fen­sive back Fofie Bazzie was the high­light of the scrim­mage, said Leake is among the most ver­sa­tile play­ers on the team.

“He’s spe­cial,” McFar­land said. “He’s a re­turn spe­cial­ist and he can get in the back­field and he can do the same thing as he does on kick re­turn. He has it all, man. He’s elu­sive, he has speed, he has power. He’s big. He got big­ger, stronger and faster this year. He added that to his game. I’m just ex­cited for him. The sky’s the limit for him. He can do a lot of things.”

Said Leake: “I just try to be the best player I can be, the best team­mate I can be. If I’ve got to catch, if I’ve got to block, if I have to do any­thing, I will do it. I just try to pick up my game from last year. I want to work on catch­ing more this year, block­ing more. Just bring my game up to the next level ev­ery time. I don’t want to stay the same. I want to keep im­prov­ing.”

But Leake, who scored a team-high seven rush­ing touch­downs last sea­son, won’t for­get the feel­ing he had watch­ing last year’s sea­son opener from the side­line as well as play­ing be­hind McFar­land, John­son and oth­ers for most of his first two years.

“It was def­i­nitely mo­ti­va­tion, see­ing all the other backs get in the [2018 Texas] game, do what they do,” he said. “I didn’t re­ally get to play as much as I wanted to, but like I said, I knew what I could do.”

NICK WASS/AP

Maryland run­ning back Javon Leake has rushed for 408 yards and scored nine touch­downs on just 43 car­ries over his first two sea­sons.

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