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Saturday will mark the final home game for 16 Maryland seniors, including two players that had to wait until their last season before they could put their stamp on the program.
Defensive tackle Maurice Hampton and wide receiver Quintin McCree, both of whom are fifth-year seniors, finally earned starting roles this season. But now, as they gear up for what is likely the final four games of their collegiate career, the anticipation is building.
"In high school, playing my final home game, it wasn't like it was over; it was more like an accomplishment. The fact that you were able to play this many years was a blessing," McCree said. "To come out for my last game, I'm going to be more hyped than sad. Some guys cry, but I'm not a real emotional guy – I get mad or I get hyped, that's it. I'm definitely going to be hyped for the game."
McCree played in 27 games before this season, but stared just twice. He has had to sit behind the likes of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon for three years. With their departure, however, McCree, one of just four senior wideouts on the team, finally received his shot.
In six games, McCree has racked up 265 yards on 23 catches, including a nine-catch, 177-yard performance in the Terps' loss to Florida State. Ranked third on the team in yards and receptions, McCree missed two games earlier in the year due to suspension.
He'll have an opportunity to continue his breakout campaign against Virginia.
As Will Hampton, who began the season listed third on the depth chart behind incumbent A.J. Francis and freshman Andre Monroe. Between on the field struggles and injuries, though, Hampton was thrust into action against Temple and hasn't looked back since.
Against Towson, Hampton earned his first start in 24 games, the last coming during his redshirt freshman season when he lined up at guard against Rutgers. Since then he's battled a rash of injuries, including a tear in his meniscus in his knee requiring surgery. He also tore the AC joint in his shoulder, driving him to the point where he contemplated quitting football.
Following two position changes, a new coaching staff and a climb up the depth chart, Hampton said he'll make sure this game counts.
"I know when I hit the field that day I better do everything in my power to stop everything, because when I look back at this 10 years from now I'm going to think about this game. I'm going to think about my last game here at the University of Maryland. It might be last place I play football," Hampton said. "I'm going to give it my all. I'm going to do the best I can."
Hampton credited Edsall and defensive line coach Greg Gattuso for his turnaround this season. He said earlier in the season he just has a better understanding of his responsibilities than he did under the previous staff.
He's one of the examples of players who truly buys into the system Edsall is implementing at Maryland – a team-first mentality, self-motivation and playing consistent football.
Of course Hampton didn't envision a team with hopes of an ACC championship with a 2-6 record as November swept in, but he considers his situation a teaching point for the younger players on the team.
"Everybody is going to benefit from us seniors paying in this game. They're going to look back and be like ‘I don't want that to be me.' If I'm a younger guy and watching this, I'm like ‘they didn't have a good year,'" Hampton said. "It's a life lesson for everybody. They need to see this; they would never know otherwise."
Saturday begins a four-game stretch in which the Terps need to win out in order to become bowl-eligible. Maryland has reached a bowl game in seven of their nine previous seasons under Ralph Friedgen.
For Edsall, who has led Connecticut to bowl games five times since 2004, including a Fiesta Bowl appearance last season, it's important to make the seniors' lasting memory of Byrd Stadium a positive one, and that means a victory.
"What we want to be able to do is send those guys out on a winning note," Edsall said. "This will be the last time they set foot in Byrd Stadium to be able to play. We'll look forward to everybody doing their part to send these guys out with a win."