The Terps' football practice facility double gates were wide open and there was no security guard, as usual, standing at the entrance as the team practiced for the first time under interim coach Mike Locksley on a brilliant, sunny Oct. 14 morning.
There was a jazzy, funk-type music playing in the background as the players worked effortlessly through their first drills since the Ohio State game.
Talk about open and loose, this was the first time, in-season, a Terps' football practice (or at least being outside the gates interviewing coach and players afterwards) had been available to media in four-and-a-half years.
Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson casually strolled in to catch up with Locksley, while even longtime Terps "lifer" equipment manager Ronnie Ohringer, who had been with the football team for decades but removed three years ago, was back on the field administering to some football duties again.
Locksley, the interim, had promised to keep things light and loose in the wake of the Randy Edsall dismissal last Sunday, and it seemed a great yoke indeed had been lifted off Maryland football.
Many saw the inevitable coming, and even the Oct. 10 Ohio State game showed the Terps, and the offense led by Locksley, was going to let it loose down to the game plan. It featured defensive back Will Likely on jet sweeps, fullback Shane Cockerille lining up at quarterback in a wildcat formation, and overall more looseness and freedom in the offense as quarterback Perry Hills ran wild in the zone read to the tune of 170 yards and two scores. It was also on defense, where the Terps were more creative and innovative with their pressures as Maryland hung with No. 1 Ohio State for three quarters before losing in their best performance of the season.
Now, Locksley and the Terps will continue to throw caution to the wind with even more twists and tweaks coming Oct. 24 when the Terps return to the field against Penn State in Baltimore, in what is now shaping up to possibly an interim-defining-game for Locksley's future.
Locksley is downplaying it all now, his hopes of becoming Maryland's next coach, as he doesn't want the added pressure on the players (many of them his former recruits he's helped stabilize in the program) to try to win for his job. He has spoken lately of playing with no pressure, letting it all hang out, and taking football back to its simplest form.
There could be fakes and reverses and throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-em looks for opponents the rest of the way as the Terps promise to leave no bullets in the holster. Looking at the schedule, and what could possibly elevate Locksley to head coach at season's end, well Penn State, Indiana, Rutgers, Iowa, there's four games the Terps may have a shot at pulling out if they continue to play with the renewed energy and creativity (and Hills stays healthy) to get to six wins and a bowl.
The Terps will leave no tools in the toolbox these next few weeks, and Locksley will be on the sidelines and tight ends coach John Dunn up in the box as his offensive coordinator. Dunn is the brightest young mind on the offensive staff, especially incorporating the passing game with what Locksley wants to do on the ground in the zone read/read option attack.
There's no doubt there was a lot of "tightness" in the final weeks of the Edsall era, and Edsal's tightness was reflected on down to the players, with whom there was a obvious disconnect as they seemed in a trance in starting the season 2-3, including some galling losses. Now, they are playing and acting more free, and Locksley even had some fun with individual, one-on-one competitions in their first practice back this week.
And that's just the on-field component, as off the field it has been a whirlwind for Locksley and staff recruiting this week to further bolster the future resume.
The head man, who has eight of Maryland's 17 verbal commits including most of the headliners led by four-star QB Dwayne Haskins and four-star receiver Tino Ellis, has been busy visiting current recruits, as well as repairing strained relationships with others.
One of his first moves was to offer four-star receiver Trevon Diggs of Avalon (Gaithersburg, Md.), as a receiver, something the former staff would not do as Edsall had him pegged for corner. Locksley was at the school on Thursday, and Diggs' recruitment is back on track where he could do something in the relative near future. The legacy recruit/kid brother of former Terp/current Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs would another critical piece to the 2016 DMV movement recruiting push, and boost Maryland's No. 41 national class higher. But it doesn't end there.
Damascus High School (Md.), where for years the Terps have had a frosty relationship likely due to late or no offers (and just not enough "love"), opened back up this week for the Terps with the offer of senior running back Jake Funk, who is on the cusp of committing.
Funk is a fast, athletic and dynamic running back, kick returner, and punt returner, while he could also play some defensive positions like linebacker. But his offensive resume, and overall high skill-set, will likely keep him as that offensive and special teams big-hit weapon.
Meanwhile, the Terps, who would not take junior college transfer offensive lineman and former McDonough/Pomfret, MD four-star Na'Ty Rodgers as a transfer after he left South Carolina last year, are back in the mix after Rodgers toiled at Iowa Western CC (Council Bluffs, Ia.) this season. He has verbally committed to Houston, but if things keep trending (and his grades check out), he could be a mid-year get for the Terps.
The Terps are also back involved with former Tennessee Volunteer and, for a few short months last spring at UMD, four-star corner De'Andre Payne, now at an Arizona junior college, who would love to come back to College Park again, Md. He left last spring when Edsall would not give him a scholarship, and his coaches say his season film is being reviewed by the Terps for another possible mid-year get.Beyond on the field where he is a pesky cover man, it would go a long way off the field, too, politically, for the former Woodson High School (Washington, D.C.) standout, where Maryland continues to try and rebuild relationships.
This year, they landed corner Parnell Motley and are still involved with former Woodson running back Abdul Adams, who is playing his senior year in North Carolina following a family situation in D.C. For the last five years, Maryland had been slow to offer Woodson kids, but that thaw appears to have begun as well.
And the whirlwind hasn't ended there, as Locksley was spotted at IMG Academy (Bradenon, Fla.) in the Florida this week, doling out more new offers as well as visiting the likes of five-star defensive end Shaq Smith, the former Baltimore star who Maryland leads for and could pop soon, and cornerback Khalil Ladler, who was a former target since pledged to Va Tech. He was also checking in on underclass top-10 star defensive end Josh Kaindoh, lineback Jordan Anthony and offensive lineman Cam Spence the same.
Locksley then saw senior three-star guard Grayson Stover (Hudson, Fla.), who Maryland may still lead for despite the change, and trekked through Tampa Catholic to offer Nate Craig-Myers, a five-star receiver.
The Terps were also at Landon (Behtesda, Md.) this week, checking in on three-star senior linebacker Keith Simms, as well as Pallotti (Laurel, Md.), Gilman (Baltimore, Md.) and St. John's. Ellison Jordan and Terrell Hall are two more Locksley recruits, who if Maryland can win some more games this season, the Terps will have a real shot at.
Locksley has also been seen at Carroll High School in D.C., checking in on some of their prime underclassmen, as well as DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) and several other local powers where seemingly all the prep coaches are behind him and his candidacy.
Jetting back and forth from town for practices and beginning to fine-tune the Penn State game plan, the staff has been to Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey, and multiple coaches have been in Florida -- including Locksley at Stover's Oct. 16 game -- as they used the bye week to their advantage in this balancing act during the transition.
Recruits that appear close to coming on board include Funk, Diggs and Smith in the not too distant future, while the Terps remain in very good position with Stover and possibly Simms if they can continue to weather the transition unscathed. There will be others too that are bound to pop up, be it the Rodgers or Paynes of the world if the Terps decide to definitively move on them this month as old DMV grounds continue to open up more in the new regime.
Meanwhile, back on the field, junior defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson did not practice Oct. 14, but is expected back for Penn State, while junior defensive end Roman Braglio appears still on the shelf with his weight down following a bout with mono.
But one thing for sure to come the Penn State game, the Terps will go a lot deeper, play a lot more kids across the board all positions, than previously this season. Locksley is looking to instill more fun in the program, and that includes giving more players an opportunity to contribute. And you can probably bank on star-crossed junior running back Wes Brown getting more touches, tackle Derwin Gray getting more run, as both become more central figures going forward.There has definitely been a liberating feeling for many in the program with the change.
A combination of four wins and getting to a bowl, and landing some more elite recruits in the coming weeks -- be it the locals or beyon --, would boost Locksley's profile for the head job probably over the top. And it is clear the players and program have some new momentum and esprit de corps going now.
In the final weeks of the Edsall era, the players began to take ownership of the program and move away from the same rote staff message each week that had worn on them, be it "fundamentals" or "technique," and now have someone they are rallying around. The emotion could indeed lift them to more wins than most expected this season, which a week ago it appeared a season in total free fall.
Often, it's all about relationships, be it players, recruits, the local community/prep football power-brokers. And Locksley and a rejuvenated staff appear to have very good momentum and fit right now.
Whether it will translate into four more wins, and a bowl berth to ensure Locksley's future at College Park, that all may begin at M&T Bank Stadium Oct. 24. That's where former Terps colleagues but now arch-rivals Mick Locksley and James Franklin butt heads in what's now a critical contest with so much hanging in the balance for the future of Maryland football. It's the kind of win that could indeed propel a once-lost-looking Terrapin team onto a new season identity, and possibly enough wins for the postseason.