'Cujoe' Focused On Future After Injury Bug

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland senior outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil returned to action last week after missing 11 games with injuries.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It had been almost a year since Maryland senior outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil had suited up and taken the field with his teammates. Last October, following the Terps’ 27-26 victory against Virginia, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Towson, Md., native learned he had suffered a torn pectoral muscle, forcing him to miss the season’s final seven games. Then, after fully recovering following months of rehab, the 100-percent healthy Cudjoe-Virgil injured his foot during preseason camp, sidelining for an extended period once again.

But after missing the last 11 games, the former Seton Hill standout finally returned to action Sept. 20, rotating in for roughly 25 plays during Maryland’s 34-20 victory against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

“Everything was rushing through my mind,” Cudjoe-Virgil said of his first play against SU, when he subbed in for sophomore Yannick Ngakoue late during the first half. “I hadn’t been on the field in awhile, so I just tried to take everything in and play football. It was definitely fun… It felt great, just trying to get everything down, get my eyes right, get back to my fundamentals and technique.”

Before going down with the torn pectoral, Cudjoe-Virgil had established himself as a potent edge rusher, spurring head coach Randy Edsall to call him “the best pass rusher on the team.” His presence was certainly missed during 2013’s latter half, and when he returned this summer, the expectations were high. Not only did the Terps anticipate him picking up where he left off, but the national media placed him on the Butkus Award Watch List.

Needless to say, it was rough being unable to fulfill those hopes the first four weeks of 2014.

“It was definitely disappointing; I didn’t expect my senior season to start off like this, but… things happen. It’s football and I’m just trying to go out there and finish off. It’s all about how you finish,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “I think the hardest part of sports is injuries. You have to be mentally tough to be successful in this game of football. But now the injury is in the past and I just have to look forward to these next eight games, and hopefully more, in the future. Just focus on the future; what’s in the past is in the past.”

During his foot rehab, Cudjoe-Virgil said he took a “one day at a time” mentality, trying to gain a little more strength, a little more mobility every 24 hours. He said the key was to not rush the process. Otherwise he’d become susceptible to another freak accident down the road.

And now that he’s back in the fold, Cudjoe-Virgil is attempting to adopt that same deliberate mindset in regards to his on-field performance. He knew he wasn’t going to be perfect against Syracuse – not after missing four weeks of training. He said his conditioning wasn't a problem, mainly because he was able to perform cardio workouts during his rehab, but honing his technique and getting up to “football speed” was more of a challenge.

The lapses may not have been evident to the naked eye, but Cudjoe-Virgil and his coach noticed them. The senior ended up with just one tackle and didn’t really have much of an impact last week.

“Cudjoe was a little bit rusty. One time he didn’t come underneath a kickout block,” Edsall said. “But the thing is he just brings so much effort and intensity and strength to the position. And also just having a guy out there like that feeds the other guys. But he’ll be fine as he continues to go, just a couple things he missed on, but he’ll be better this week and we’re happy he’s back out there.”

Said Cudjoe-Virgil:

“I just have to keep working hard and get back into things, because there’s not a whole lot of room for error going into the Big Ten schedule. It feels great [to be healthy], but now I just have to put it all together and be ready for [Indiana].”

The Terps are going to need him. Maryland’s first Big Ten opponent features an up-tempo spread that can rack up points almost as fast as the Hoosiers’ basketball team. IU is averaging 34 points per game, 547 yards of total offense (11th in the FBS) and 310 rushing yards per game (eighth in the FBS).

“Definitely their fast-paced offense, and their running back [Tevin Coleman] is really good. So it will be a big challenge for our defense stopping him and making them one-dimensional,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “I think this is one of our biggest challenges yet, and we just want to go out and execute and get the win.”

That’s all well and good in theory. But Maryland’s defense hasn’t exactly, you know, “executed” lately. Two week ago, during the loss to West Virginia, the Terps allowed almost 700 yards of total offense, while last week Syracuse rolled up close to 600 total yards (370 rushing).

“We just have to get back to fundamentals and technique. Everything is on us,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “We have a tendency to play outside of our defense. Over-pursuing, missing tackles -- that’s on us. Once we get back to playing our defense, I believe we can do some really good things and be a great defense.”

No one in College Park is making excuses, but UMD probably wouldn’t have had such defensive lapses had it been healthier. Not only did Cudjoe-Virgil miss the first month, but No. 1 defensive end Quinton Jefferson is out for the year with a knee injury; starting inside linebacker Cole Farrand has been dealing with a myriad of aches; starting outside linebacker Matt Robinson is nicked up; backup Cavon Walker is out for the season with a foot injury; linebacker Avery Thompson has been hobbled; and starting corner Alvin Hill has had his share of pains as well. Not to mention talented linebacker Abner Logan is still suspended, while backup safety A.J. Hendy won’t play at all due to a season-long suspension.

So decimated were the Terps against Syracuse that L.A. Goree was the only Week One starting linebacker still atop the depth chart.

“[Injuries] been happening the past couple years so it’s not something that’s new…. They’re not just going to cancel games just because we’re hurt,” Cudjoe-Virgil said. “It’s not something new we’ve been facing; it’s been going on for awhile now, so it’s not a shock to anybody … We talk about it at the beginning of every season -- next guy up, next guy up, next guy up.”

Fortunately for the Terps, the next guy(s) up should be Cudjoe-Virgil, Farrand, and Robinson, as all three are probably ready to play. Farrand, like Cudjoe-Virgil, came off the bench against Syracuse, while Robinson may be set for action after missing the SU bout.

Count Goree, the defacto leader with the aforementioned trio hampered, as one guy who can’t wait to have them back.

Specifically the guy who missed 11 games.

“It’s comforting [to have Cudjoe-Virgil back] because Yannik knows what he’s doing. The other Yannick [Ngakoue] knows what he’s doing as well, so you can’t be too mad about [him being out there]. But to be in [Cudjoe-Virgil’s] presence is comforting because we play on the same side … and I know he knows what he’s doing as a player,” Goree said. “And he’s a guy who definitely wants to be great. He doesn’t just want to be out there -- he wants to take his game as far as it can go.”

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