COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland junior receiver Amba Etta-Tawo has been in College Park for more than three years, but, until now, he’s never been completely healthy. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Powder Spring, Ga., native said he suffered a torn labrum before even stepping foot on campus, but rather than going the surgical route, he opted for rest.
Apparently it worked . . . sort of.
During the summer of his freshman year, Etta-Tawo felt healthy enough to contribute, although there was always some nagging, lingering pain.
Not that it was noticeable to the naked eye. Etta-Tawo shined on the scout team all during 2012, earning Scout Team Player of the Week honors twice. The next season, he started seven times, busting out with a six-catch, 109-yard game against Syracuse and a four-grab, 101-yard outing against NC State. Etta-Tawo’s production did drop off considerably in 2014, as he caught just 10 passes despite seeing action in all 13 games (six starts), but his 71-yard touchdown catch against Rutgers served as a career highlight.
But those flashes, the ones that earned him a three-star ranking coming out of McEachern High School, were sandwiched -- no, enveloped by -- a coterie of dropped passes and inconsistent production.
“I started kind of slow once I got here,” Etta-Tawo said after practice Aug. 20. “I’m not going to blame everything on my labrum, but I think it’s hurt me a little bit, doing what I knew I was capable of. Before, I couldn’t really reach above my head that well to catch passes. I mean, I could still reach up, but not as fast as I wanted to.”
Finally, last January, Etta-Tawo elected to undergo surgery, ridding himself of the pain once and for all. He spent the entire offseason, including spring ball, rebuilding his strength in order to contribute this fall.
Etta-Tawo said he spent countless hours under the watchful eye of the Maryland trainers. And when the receiver briefly returned home to Georgia, they gave him specific exercises to work through.
Etta-Tawo still sports a brace, but he said he’s “100 percent and confident.”
“I’m back to normal, just like in high school,” he said. “I have full range of motion, and I’m ready to go.”
The Terps certainly hope so. With the departure of starters Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, coupled with Nigel King’s (transfer to Kansas) and Juwann Winfree’s (dismissed from team) withdrawals, Etta-Tawo has been thrust into a starting role. He’ll line up opposite another new starter, Malcolm Culmer, and slot Levern Jacobs, who is returning after a year-long suspension.
“This offseason we lost a lot of guys, so it’s on me, Vern, Malcolm and Taivon [Jacobs] to really become the leaders of the offense,” Etta-Tawo said. “I definitely feel like I have to step up, but it’s not really pressure, because this is what we signed up to do. We all came here to make an impact and make plays for the team. We’re going to be ready.”
In addition to his rehab, Etta-Tawo and his fellow wideouts spent the last few months running routes and catching passes from Maryland quarterbacks Caleb Rowe, Daxx Garman and Perry Hills. Etta-Tawo said the group focused on “doing the little things that are going to help us in the long run,” namely press releases; topping out routes; and, most importantly, giving full effort -- every rep, every play.
“[Receivers] coach [Keenan] McCardell always tells us you really can’t coach effort. It’s on us to go hard every play,” said Etta-Tawo, who refused comment on the quarterback competition, opting to talk up each of the three contenders. “That’s something he stresses over and over and over.
“But, honestly, he’s really helped us as a unit. Having a receivers coach who played in the League for 17 years, you can’t get much better than that. It’s a real advantage for us to have [McCardell]. He’s been there and done that, and it wasn’t too long ago he was out there putting up big numbers [in the NFL]. What Coach McCardell says, it works. We’ve all seen the results.”
Etta-Tawo in particular. The junior receiver has been one of the offense’s headliners this August, a go-to target for both Rowe and Garman. He’s snagged a number of wayward throws during practice, and he grabbed two touchdown passes in the Terps’ last team scrimmage.
“I think Amba is having the best camp of any receiver,” Levern Jacobs said. “He’s made a bunch of big plays. I think he’s been physical and really stepped up catching the ball. It’s big, because we’re really going to need him this year after what we lost last year.”
Head coach Randy Edsall has taken note as well. The headman said Etta-Tawo has added noticeable strength, while noting how he’s playing faster after three years experience in offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s system.
“[Etta-Tawo] is doing a lot of good things and has really improved. He’s a more confident young man,” Edsall said. “We have to get his legs back for him, just like all these guys, but he’s doing well right now.”
Etta-Tawo said as long as he keeps heeding the McCardell mantra -- all effort, all the time -- he’ll continue having success. He doesn’t have any personal goals or numbers in mind this year, but believes the production will be there if the team’s winning.
“There are no individuals this year, no big names,” said Etta-Tawo, who mentioned that freshman receiver D.J. Moore has begun to separate himself among the Terps’ new wideouts. “The receivers, we look good, but we’re just here to do our jobs and help the team win games. If you’re helping the team win by doing the little things, focusing on giving your all, everything else is going to fall into place.”
Finally Healthy, Etta-Tawo's Ready To Step Up
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