Ngakoue Maturing on the Job

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- For four-star Under Armour All American and prize of the Terps' 2013 football recruit class Yannick Ngakoue, playing second fiddle to an unknown transfer from a Division III school was not what he had in mind when he inked with Maryland out of Washington, D.C., powerhouse Friendship Collegiate Academy a year ago.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- For four-star Under Armour All American and prize of the Terps' 2013 football recruit class Yannick Ngakoue, playing second fiddle to an unknown transfer from a Division III school was not what he had in mind when he inked with Maryland out of Washington, D.C., powerhouse Friendship Collegiate Academy a year ago.

But that's the fate that confronted the highest-rated recruit in last year's Maryland class, and one Ngakoue did not embrace.

Senior Marcus Whitefield was entrenched as the starter at outside 'backer, and was returning as Maryland's best edge rusher. But after him, following an August camp battle, playing third-string behind tiny Seton Hill transfer Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil was not how Ngakoue envisioned his debut going.

Ngakoue had his pick of the litter among college choices a year ago, having the ability to play in all the major conferences and at the top powers. But he chose the hometown school to be close to his mother, and to have a shot at starting early in his career.

But the junior and more-seasoned Cudjoe-Virgil, affectionately known as 'Kujo' to his teammates for his ability to lay the wood as well as rush the passer tenaciously, emerged as Maryland's most prolific sack man, racking up three to go with 3.5 tackles for loss for negative-24 yards in his first six games at Whitfield's backup before a season-ending injury ended his 2013 campaign.

This spring, with Cudjoe-Virgil still on the mend, Ngakoue (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) has a new perspective and has raised the ante with his play, which was highlighted by a three-sack, several quarterback 'hurry' performance on March 29 at North Point High School in the Terps' biggest scrimmage of the spring. But it may have never come had Ngakoue not calmed his emotions and stuck with the Terps, which last fall he wrestled with as a headstrong third-stringer frustrated watching from the sidelines.

He will still have to contend with Cudjoe-Virgil in August camp for the starting spot, but the humbling experience gained Ngakoue new perspective.

"I mean, I was used to playing a lot," he said March 28. "When I came here I played but not as much as I wanted to. It was humbling for sure, so it made me more motivated to go to practice every day to show the coaches just what I could do."

Ngakoue got more focused as the backup last fall, playing in all 13 games and producing himself, all to the tune of two sacks, 4.5 TFLs and even an interception in his true freshman campaign. He finished with 10 total tackles, including a season-high three against Clemson. He also toiled on special teams, doing whatever to get on the field, where his athleticism but still-raw ability was welcomed.

Ngakoue said he has now embraced the more technical points of the game, taking to outside linebackers coach Lyndon Johnson's technique pointers this offseason -- starting with his hands. Ngakoue said last year he relied more on power and speed and not the finer points as often needed.

"I have improved on my hands and my rush getting past the offensive tackle, that's the biggest help to my game so far. I am more technical with my hands and my hips are more fluid," he said. "And my cover skills have also gotten better. Coach Johnson showed me a lot this off-season of what I can do better based off coverages, based off reads. My eyes got way better."

He took it to the March 28 in the Terps' most significant spring test yet.

"Yeah, I just was motivated tonight, not to show anybody what I can do, but to show myself what I can do," Ngakoue said. "And that was just going out every play and sucking it up every play when I was tired and stuff like that, and not showing I was tired."

Edsall called Ngakoue's performance March 28 his best yet as a Terp, as he helped set the tone for a defense that kept the offense harried and out of sync for much of the night. Ngakoue added that the defense has been communicating better this spring, and it showed as there were multiple sacks, picks and PBUs, as well as some wicked hits.

"Yannick, I thought he rushed the passer really well today," Edsall said. "I think this was probably his best practice of the nine so far. He's been very business like, attentive to doing the things he's been coached to do. It was good to see him come out and play the way he did. He knows he's got to do that because Yannic Cudjoe-Virgil is coming back off the injury. If [Ngakoue] wants to challenge him he has to come out and perform...And that's the great thing, he's taking advantage of [the opportunity]."

All of the three FCA freshman linebackers -- Ngakoue, Cavon Walker and Jermaine Carter -- almost daily provide highlight-reel hits at practice. And while still raw and learning in several areas, the trio has given the Terps much-needed young, new depth across the board at the 'backer spots. Carter, unfortunately, injured his knee at North Point, after which Ngakoue quickly got to his side.

"Yeah, that was tough. But I just told him this is spring ball and you'll be alright before [fall] camp," Ngakpie said. "But we have that mentality we just go hard every play, that's what [FCA] coach [Aazaar Abdul] Rahim taught us before we left. So that's just our mentality."

The best thing for now is, well, Ngakoue has more of a team mentality, and has even leaned on Cudjoe-Virgil for pointers, too, as the two prepare to do battle come the fall for that top spot. Ngakoue also remains one of the Terps' top hitters, but he is channeling it now with more discipline in his craft, not just running to the action but thinking more. He arrived out of FCA with much fanfare, his speed and edge rushing ability even compared to former UMD great Shawne Merriman. But first he had to slow down.

"He taught me some stuff, some of the little things like how to use my hands more in pass rushing," Ngakoue said of Cudjoe-Virgil. "But I am not really worried about it, about who starts. I just feel like we're both going to help the team regardless."

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