Dancel Both Gives and Receives

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- As a former highly-decorated quarterback at Good Counsel (Olney, Md.), where he only lost four career games dating back eight years even through youth football before, Terps sophomore safety Zach Dancel has always been known as a cerebral, thinking-man's football player regardless of which side of the field he is quarterbacking.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- As a former highly-decorated quarterback at Good Counsel (Olney, Md.), where he only lost four career games dating back eight years even through youth football before, Terps sophomore safety Zach Dancel has always been known as a cerebral, thinking-man's football player regardless of which side of the field he is quarterbacking.

After being named all-state in leading Good Counsel and coach Bob Milloy to consecutive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships as a junior and senior, Dancel made the transition to college safety, where he started eight games as a freshman under former New Mexico head coach Mike Locksley, now the Terps offensive coordinator.

And while he may be known most for his brains (Dancel is an honors student and one of Maryland's top and respected student-athletes), he's just as aggressive and loves to lay the wood despite his deep offensive roots.

So when he saw the Terps offense enjoying a few too many crack-back blocks at Monday's spring practice in Byrd Stadium, one by a former GC teammate, fullback Drew Stefanelli, he decided to exact a little revenge. Dancel's also fiercely loyal.

Towards the end of practice, with tempers flaring after Stefanelli took out defensive end Chandler Burkett on a quarterback run up the sideline, Dancel sent a message to the offense and running back Jacquille Veii, who had turned the corner with a full head of steam on the right sideline.

"We just saw players starting to get hit, the offense started doing some crack-backs, and we as a defense looked at each other and said, 'Alright, it's on.' And I saw him by the sideline, and I know he was going to be running full-speed at me. So I put it right back at him," said Dancel, who knocked Veii 3-4 yards off the sideline, and drew the 'woofing' of defensive mates.

After a year sitting out after following Locksley to College Park, Dancel (6-0, 195) played in 12 games last season, registering 11 tackles, while mostly shining on special teams as a hitter. He remains the backup at safety to Anthony Nixon, while he plays on four special teams units.

Terps defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Brian Stewart said one of the story-lines to watch this spring on his unit is the battle at both safety spots, as both Dancel and A.J. Hendy, who backs up Sean Davis, are nipping at the heels for more time. It has become one of Maryland's better depth spots, after years of trying to establish a more quality two-deep in the secondary. Dancel has picked up the system and continues to work on his consistency in coverage, something Edsall echoed this week as well.

"The other day there was a play that got behind him and as a safety you have to understand what you have to do and you can't [always] make a play," Edsall said. "I think he's more comfortable in the system, but we have to get him more consistent as well."

Said Dancel:

"Being consistent with my reads. Knowing where I am supposed to be. But mainly my eye discipline, that will help me out a whole bunch for where I need to be and what I need to do."

Dancel said he needs to "Keep working and my time will come. I am mainly just trying to get into the film room a lot more, trying to study. I may not be the most athletic person, but where I want to be the fastest is my reaction….reading the line of scrimmage and working from there.

"And yeah, just like the old quarterback days. Just knowing how an offensive player thinks and being able to use that on the defensive side, I think that helps a lot," he said.

Dancel also played a key role in helping teammate and adoptive brother Wes Brown back in the fold the last year from suspension. Dancel has long been an older brother/mentor to Brown, who lived with him and his family for a few years, and the two have experienced a lot of life lessons together these last few years.

"Just to see like a complete turnaround. His attitude towards everything. I mean, everything is great and it was a great life lesson that he learned from the whole situation. And he is going to come back out here and prove himself again," Dancel said.

Dancel said he was always there for Brown when "there were a lot of people talking down on him. I know it was rough for him."

On the field, he sees a new Brown as well.

"He has lost some weight, but I think the weight he has lost is good weight. I think he has trimmed down, he's back to kinda how he was at Good Counsel. Slim, fit, faster. I think he is looking awesome out here," he said.

Dancel is one of the program's all-around good guys, helping organize the recent 'TerpThon' event for "Miracle Kids," he said. "Kids who have had like cancer, survived like some type of....[tragedy.] But it's mainly supporting Children's Hospital, they were raising money for that."

He and other Terps and Randy Edsall surprised a young Terp fan who has battled sickness with a lot of signed Terps gear and a football. "He had no clue. And when we brought him out on stage he was just in shock," Dancel said of the child.

It's been quite a homecoming for Dancel, who in addition to reuniting with Brown and Stefanelli, has been joined by former UNM receivers Deon Long and Daniel Adams, and soon offensive tackle Larry Mazyck.

"Once everything happened out in New Mexico, we all knew towards the end there we would end up going somewhere else. But the fact we all came here is a blessing," Dancel said. The presence of them certainly helped the process of Brown becoming a Terp, not to mention former Good Counsel five-star receiver Stefon Diggs coming on board that same winter in a recruiting coup for the program.

Dancel likes the look of this year's defense under Stewart, who he said he loves his scheme. Stewart has told Dancel to keep studying film and "lead on and off the field and I will get my shot."

"We only lost [LB] Marcus Whitfield and [corner] Dex [Dexter McDougle]. So having everyone return, the camaraderie that everyone had is awesome. The connection, communication....I think it is going to come up big time down the road," Dancel said.

While he is generous and respected around campus, Dancel is also hard to miss. His long, flowing 'locks' haven't been cut since he was at New Mexico.

"Who knows, I haven't thought about it. But maybe I can get a ‘Head and Shoulders' ad," he quipped.

TerrapinTimes Top Stories