COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Terps senior center and line leader Sal Conaboy was a popular guy this week.
On Aug. 5, immediately after practice, he helped lead an offensive line unit meeting on the far field. As he walked off the field, team minister Bryce Bevill walked and talked with Conaboy the entire way until he met a throng of awaiting media.
But come Jan. 17, Maryland's Remington Award preseason nominee Conaboy will be even more popular, when 250 of his closest friends and family join him for his pending nuptials back home in Pennsylvania with his high school sweetheart, Kaitlyn, an occupational therapist in the area who Conaboy's dated for eight years and proposed to last winter.
And of course, heading into his final camp and season, the future Conaboys already have all their plans set for the big day. Just like a true ringleader up front.
"We tried to get everything done and planned and out of the way so I could focus on the season and she understood that," Conaboy said after practice Aug. 5. "She wanted to do more, but I couldn't have her do it all by herself, you know what I mean?"
Naturally, Conaboy has taken his fair share of ribbing for having a girlfriend ever since he stepped foot on campus, while Terps offensive coordinator Mike Locksley likes to call him "old man."
Beyond that, it's all football for Conaboy this month, who's the quarterback of the Terps line and it's most veteran and valuable member as Maryland embarks on its first Big Ten season.
Maryland's patchwork O-line of former walk-ons and undervalued recruits has begun to come of age led by Conaboy in the middle, the one mainstay for the last three years.
Talented sophomore Michael Dunn has moved to left tackle, junior Ryan Doyle to the right side, while junior Andrew Zeller is right guard but a changing cast still exists at left guard. Junior Evan Mulrooney was leading senior Silvano Altamirano for camp's most contested spot, left guard, but Mulrooney went down on Day One with an undisclosed illness, thrusting the career backup Altamirano in the starter's role for now. Then there's talented true freshmen tackles Derwin Gray and Damian Prince, though Prince has some summer weight to drop before he may get in the serious mix. (Conaboy said the rookie Gray "is working hard" at tackle, "but like any freshman and the second day of camp it's tough. He's got to get in his playbook like everyone else.")
It's added up to another jigsaw puzzle the Terps are trying to piece together, all under new offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, this fall. And Conaboy, like the core vocal leader he has become, didn't mince words after the Aug. 5 practice, when the offense struggled at times.
"Everyone's fighting in one-on-ones and everything, and for a second day I think this group put forth some good effort," Conaboy said. "But I think our focus isn't exactly where it needs to be, but that will come with getting together more and coming together as a group more."
Conaboy rolled his eyes and joked a bit when asked of how the switch between Dunn and Doyle has worked out this month. Dunn is the next-most valued Terps offensive lineman after Conaboy.
"Dunn has moved around so much it's hard to keep track of him," Conaboy said. "But he's such a versatile player that you really don't notice it. He still makes his calls and works like he did on the other side so he's really a great player and has come along good."
Conaboy said the cohesion and another year together has aided the line in a big way, not to mention a sixth-year quarterback in C.J. Brown under center.
"It's been huge. He [Brown] has gone from being a quiet guy to now more attentive of having the confidence. And now he's trying to be a more vocal leader, and you like that from a quarterback and we need that, we need that from him. We need his guidance," Conaboy said.
Conaboy said the unit spent more time together in the summertime, but it's still adjusting to the lineup, and the speed the way they are playing. He said the offense is faster under Studrawa, the linemen playing and not thinking as much.
"He wants to make it fun. He wants us to have a good time doing it and be passionate about it," Conaboy said of Studrawa's energizing style.
The 6-foot-3, 295-pound Conaboy worked mostly this summer on his footwork, pointing up that part of his game, while he said he has never felt so good physically.
"I feel good out here. This is the first camp I have felt when I came into it mostly full-speed, so it's real good," Conaboy said.
On that Remington Award nomination, one of a handful of Terps with pre-season accolades, Conaboy said it's too early to buy into too much hype.
"I mean, it's an honor obviously and I am happy to be on it," Conaboy said. "It's a little bit more....I don't want to say more motivation, but it's just...it definitely doesn't mean anything right now, it's the preseason. I still got to go out and do what I do for my team."
Said Terps senior quarterback C.J. Brown this week of Conaboy's emergence as a leader and a center of attention on an offense that has weapons throughout:
"It's just his experience," Brown said. "The leadership that he brings to the table and like I said his experience. You can't have too much of that. He's been through a lot with the different teams, not only the coaches the players with the shuffle, and he's been the consistent rock. Now that they kind of got that mold shaped he's getting recognition and he deserves all of that."
The biggest change for Conaboy may be his more vocal style, asserting himself more with the Terps' trenchmen after coming in as an extremely quiet and shy rookie five years ago out of Clarks Summit, Pa.
"It's definitely night-and-day," Conaboy said. "I'm still not where I want to be as a leader, but I'm working on it. But I think guys are looking up to me more and more and I like that. I am trying to mentor guys as much as I can because we got a couple young centers now so it's a lot of fun for me. I like helping young guys out and try to bring the unit together."
Conaboy likes all the talented parts of the Terps offense and sees it's potential if the chemistry continues to build. The Terps are looking to shore up their two-deep, and it may include some rookies this fall.
"I think we have something special if we can get that connection down and get that focus I have been talking about. We could have something special here, and I am excited about that," Conaboy said.
Head coach Randy Edsall singled Conaboy out on the first day of camp this week, and his preseason accolade:
“Sal is very steady. He’s smart and a really hard worker. It’s good to see him get that recognition," Edsall said. "He’s got a lot of experience. He’s a guy that’s the leader of our offensive line and a guy that we have high expectations for this year. He understands his role and what he has to do from a leadership standpoint and you just see him getting better and better each year as an offensive lineman and a center.
“He’s smart. He really understands what’re doing and can make all the calls. The biggest thing that he’s got to do is just get better with his footwork and his technique and hand placement. He’s made strides, but those are things he’s got to get better at.”
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