COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The first time Mike Minter picked up a guitar, he was in seventh-grade music class, the now-Terps’ sophomore guard strumming a simple bar on and old, out-of-tune acoustic. Minter didn’t exactly remind of Robert Plant, but he was hooked nevertheless, the middle schooler conjuring up images of becoming the next garage band rock star. Thus, he began teaching himself how to play by studying YouTube tutorials and imitating the likes of Dave Grohl and Slash.
Seven years later, Minter’s still banging out classic rock and alternative beats, albeit with a much more refined sound (and on a much better guitar). The Severna Park, Md., native has been known to perform during Maryland talent shows and student-organized events, although most of the time he’ll grab the ‘ol six string while alone in his dorm room.
“It’s a nice getaway from everything. I bring it out once the girls come around (laughs),” said Minter, who can dig anything from the slow beats of James Taylor to the much heavier Metallica. “No, I mainly just play for myself. … Whenever I get a chance to play, I break [the guitar] out. Maybe one day I’ll be able to go somewhere with it.”
Perhaps, but for now schoolwork and football consume most of Minter’s time. A former walk-on from Severna Park High, Minter just ascended to the top of Maryland’s depth chart before the season-opener against Richmond, and, to boot, earned a full athletic scholarship.
It’s safe to say Minter had to put even more time and effort into securing the latter than into becoming a musician. After all, playing guitar didn’t require overcoming six significant knee injuries, a position switch and the “walk-on” label.
“If I didn’t have this goal in mind, what was I doing here in the first place?” Minter said. “When I first got here as a walk-on, I knew I had to work a little extra every day to get to where I am now. It was in the back of my mind the whole time. I was envisioning earning a scholarship, starting, making an impact, and helping the team win. From Day One, you could say, it’s been a journey, but it’s unbelievable to see it all pay off and be in the position I am now.”
Minter’s journey began at Severna Park, where he was a two-time all-conference performer at defensive tackle. But, even so, Minter didn’t garner much Division I attention, earning scholarships instead from nearby FCS schools and a few academic-aid grants from Ivy programs.
The Terps, though, had taken note of the 6-foot-3, 305-pounder, head coach Randy Edsall first noticing him at the Baltimore Touchdown Club all-star banquet during Minter’s senior year. Meanwhile, area recruiter John Dunn had caught wind of Minter well before that.
Granted, Minter wasn’t deemed scholarship-worthy at the time, but Edsall and Co. did give him the chance to walk on.
It was an opportunity Minter readily jumped at, even at the expense of those attractive Ivy offers. The burly trenchman pointed out how his father and two brothers were UMD alums, so he grew up completely in-tune to Terps’ football, basketball and lacrosse. So once Edsall presented the preferred walk-on, well, as Minter put it, “It was hard for me to say no. My dream was always to come to Maryland.”
“We’re always actively looking for walk-ons to join our program,” Edsall said. “I’ve had great success with walk-ons coming in, earning scholarships, becoming starters, and some of them have gone on to be drafted and playing the NFL. It’s about giving young men opportunities. If they do the things they’re supposed to do, they know they have the opportunity to earn a scholarship. Mike is a great kid and someone who has worked very, very hard.”
First step down. A long, long road still ahead.
Soon after realizing his college dream, Minter had a freak accident that could’ve derailed his UMD career before it began. During a school dance at the end of his senior year, Minter attempted a rather advanced move his body didn’t quite agree with. He ended up tumbling over backwards and tearing a knee ligament, effectively ending his freshman season before even arriving in College Park.
And that was just the latest in a string of knee ailments that plagued Minter in 12th grade. The tackle’s second overall knee dislocation (the first came earlier during his high school tenure) occurred after four games, knocking him out the next few weeks. It wasn’t a season-ending injury, though, so Minter attempted a comeback. Bad idea. He ended up dislocating the knee yet again as Severna Park drove to the playoffs.
Undeterred, Minter healed up in time for winter basketball. But, you guessed it, he injured his knee for a third time while running up and down the hardwood.
Lesson learned, right? Not quite. In an act of showmanship, Minter attempted a cartwheel a couple months later, banging up his knee for a fourth time.
Then came the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back: The school dance “move.”
“When it happened the last time and I tore the ligament, it was kid of like, ‘Here we go, I have to go through this again,’” Minter said. “But at the same time, I was thinking, ‘OK, this is a minor setback for a major comeback. I’m not going to let an injury dictate what I do in the future.’ So I was just trying my best to get through it and do my best to get back stronger than before.”
It’s that perpetual positive attitude that drove Minter from injured walk-on defensive tackle to Maryland’s starting right guard two years later. After attacking the rigorous rehab process, Minter entered camp in 2014 eager to make up for lost time. Except he wouldn’t be playing the position he was slotted for coming out of high school. Rather, Minter was shifted to offensive guard, a position he hadn’t played since his junior year at Severna Park.
But Minter approached the switch the same way he did the various knee ailments: With an open mind. He noted how he didn’t really work with the Terps’ defensive line in 2013, because he missed all but the bowl-week practice due to rehab. (In fact, Minter wasn’t even in camp with Maryland that summer, and during the season-opening game against FIU he had to sit in the student-section due to NCAA rules). Therefore, Minter said, he was able to start “fresh” with offensive line coach Greg Studrawa entering camp in 2014.
“Even though I liked defense more in high school, I always felt like offensive line was a natural position for me,” Minter said. “It wasn’t much of a transition. I just had to relearn a few things, and Coach Stud was able to teach me the footwork; the technique; and everything I needed to do. And, honestly, I credit Coach Stud, Coach Edsall and the whole staff, and all the older guys around me. [The veteran offensive linemen] really accepted me when I first came over to offense. They helped me with the technique, the fundamentals and everything Coach Edsall preaches. Having their experience has really helped me become the player I am today. Our offensive line room is just amazing with Michael Dunn, Evan Mulrooney, Andrew Zeller and Mike Doyle, Sal Conaboy -- they’ve all made huge impacts on my life.”
OK, so Minter had been ingratiated into the “big ugly” clan up front. But he still had a ways to go before reaching his goal. Sitting deep on the depth chart his redshirt freshman year, Minter appeared in the opener against James Madison, but didn’t see game action the rest of the year.
No matter. The determined Minter continued working with Studrawa, while heeding the advice of Maryland’s elder statesmen. As his body developed and his technique became more refined, Minter slowly but surely emerged during the spring and summer. Finally, by the end of August camp, he’d done enough to unseat scholarship players like Mulrooney and claim the No. 1 guard gig.
“[Minter] did his job well. That’s what we talk to the kids about – do your job well. And that’s what he’s done,” Edsall said. “Mike is a competitor, he is a physical offensive lineman, he’s a young man who understands concepts and basically just went out and worked hard and did the things Coach Stud [Greg Studrawa] asked him to do. And then he was able to go out and execute [the things Studrawa asked] at a high level. It wasn’t real hard … he had the ability, he used his ability, and he went out and earned himself [a spot in] the starting rotation.”
Not wanting to show his friends up, Minter privately exulted after Edsall announced the starting front five. But the emotions came pouring out a few days later when Minter and his teammates attended a Sunday team meeting -- six days before the Richmond game.
During the meeting, Edsall had each member of the Leadership Council stand up and announce the new scholarship awardees.
“So once [Andrew] Zeller stood up and started saying my name, it was like, ‘This isn’t happening right now. There’s no way.’ … And even when I kind of had an idea it was coming, nothing really prepares you for that moment,” Minter said. “It was probably the best moment that I can think of in my life to this point. I can’t even describe it. It was just an unbelievable feeling.”
Needless to say, Minter garnered heaps of praise from his teammates.
“Mike, he’s a monster. Blocking-wise, you see him pull on film, he’s quick and has great technique,” tight end Avery Edwards said. “Coming in, I didn’t know him, and I actually thought he was a scholarship player. I didn’t know he was a walk-on until he received a scholarship in the auditorium. I was like, ‘This guy is a real player, how is he not on scholarship already?’ So he’s been great, and he’s a great guy to be around too.”
Minter attempted to contact his parents immediately after the team meeting, but was forced to wait until after position sit-downs. When the session finally ended, Minter quickly hurried the call just before a lifting session.
“My mom started crying over the phone,” Minter said. “It was the best feeling ever to tell my parents they didn’t have to pay for college anymore. More than anything else, that was such a great feeling for me, and them too.”
With his parents looking on at Byrd Stadium Sept. 5, Minter helped pave the way for a Terps’ ground attack that racked up 341 yards. Afterwards, Minter admitted he could’ve played better, but said he learned plenty in the 50-21 victory.
“It’s definitely been a journey, that’s for sure,” Minter said. “But it’s not done yet. I still have a lot to prove, and I’m looking forward to Week Two against Bowling Green.”