COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- After about five minutes of nonstop questions regarding his recent bout with mononucleosis, Maryland junior defensive end Roman Braglio had finally had enough.
“Man, it was awful, that’s all there is to it. I don't want to talk about it anymore,” said a chucking Braglio to a rather persistent reporter Oct. 28. “It was not fun. That’s the first time I’ve ever been that sick, and I don’t ever want to have to go through it again.”
Although the illness only kept Braglio out of one game, the Terps’ 49-28 loss at Ohio State Oct. 10, the two-week ordeal couldn’t have cropped up at a worse time. A stalwart up front in his first full year starting, Braglio’s point-of-attack potency and persistent penetration have helped solidify a UMD front many questioned at season’s outset. Through six games, Braglio filled up the stat sheet to the tune of 21 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups -- a key cog for a top-40 run defense that’s held opposing rushing attacks to a 4.0-yards-per-carry average.
But the day after the Terps fell to Michigan, 28-0, Braglio came down with a debilitating fever that, in his words, “caught me way off-guard.” For the next four or five days he was bedridden, before finally gathering enough gumption to see a doctor.
“The doctors were actually pretty worried about my spleen, because what happens when you get sick like that is your spleen can get infected and becomes enlarged,” Braglio said. “So even after I started feeling better I had to wait like an entire week just for my spleen to shrink back to its normal size. I was in the training room like every day, just pushing the trainers: ‘Come on, my spleen is fine. It’s fine, really. Just clear me (laughs).’”
Even prior to the diagnosis, then head coach Randy Edsall promptly declared Braglio a “no-go” for the Ohio State game, a foregone conclusion since the edge rusher hadn’t practiced. Adding insult to injury (quite literally), Braglio couldn’t travel to Columbus, Ohio, forcing him to watch the game at his Woodstock, Md., home.
“I couldn’t tell you how depressed I was watching the game on TV,” Braglio said. “It was awful. I mean, it was almost like I was getting ready for the game, but on my couch. I took it out on my dad, who was watching the game with me.”
The Terps had a bye following the OSU loss, giving Braglio a little more recovery time. He did manage to make a couple cameo practice appearances, although he looked rather haggard, complete with baggy sweats (read: sick clothes) and an unshaven, sullen face. Braglio admitted he lost a couple pounds, although he forced himself to eat so he wouldn’t be completely sapped physically.
“As soon as I was able I was running every morning and getting my conditioning up, just pushing through it,” Braglio said. “I did the best I could to get my strength back, my appetite up.”
Finally, on Oct. 19, he received the best news he’d heard since being named a starter during August camp. Braglio’s phone lit up with a text from a team trainer, letting him know he could practice.
“Once I was cleared, I was ready to go. The first thing I did was go straight to Coach [Chad] Wilt’s office and catch up on anything, any new plays and things like that,” Braglio said. “Then when I got back to practice, I felt like I was stepping on the field for the first time all season. I was fired up, and I was getting everyone else fired up. It felt good coming back.”
“We never thought he was sick anyhow,” defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski deadpanned. “But he had the test, and they [the doctors] made a decision to hold him out. I think it probably helped [Braglio]; gave him some rest, got his body back to feeling healthy.”
Evidently the pent-up adrenalin, coupled with extra recovery time, carried right into Maryland’s next game against Penn State. Without missing a beat, Braglio reassumed his starting gig and recorded two tackles, although the numbers don’t show the numerous blocks he ate up or lanes he cleared out.
“[Braglio] played his tail off,” Dudzinski said. “He did his job and gave maximum effort every play. There was nothing there where I felt I wasn’t comfortable with him.”
Braglio, along with the rest of the front seven, held Nittany Lions’ feature back Saquon Barkley to 65 yards and a 3.2 yards-per-carry average. As a whole, Penn State managed 1.5 yards per tote and recorded 76 rushing yards all game. PSU still emerged with a 31-30 victory in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, but the Terps’ rush defense rose to the occasion for the second straight week.
“As a defense, we take pride in stopping the run and making teams one-dimensional,” Braglio said. “I wouldn’t say we’re riding high, but obviously [against PSU] we did do a decent job stopping the run, and before at Ohio State we [did well]. But this week is a new team and a new challenge, and we have to stay focused.”
Yes, next up for Maryland is undefeated Iowa, which is racking up 214 rushing yards per game (25th in the FBS) and averages 5.0 yards per carry. The Hawkeyes are led by senior Jordan Canzeri, who has tallied 698 yards and nine touchdowns thus far.
Fortunately for the Terps, Canzeri’s been hobbled of late. On top of that, Iowa runs a pro-set offense, a style UMD’s defense has excelled against the last couple games.
“I guess if you look back on the season, we’ve done better against pro-style offenses. But I’d say it’s a mixture of … what we’ve done well as a defense, the [opponent’s] type of offense, and the type of running back they have,” Braglio said. “You have to look at the line, pre-snap indicators, the running back’s ability – are they downhill or more lateral?”
Iowa is most definitely downhill – and have been for much of head coach Kirk Ferentz’ 16-year tenure in Iowa City, Ia. The Hawkeyes are a no-nonsense, gimmick-free attack that loves to hit opponents in the mouth with a steady dose of power running (even though they’re passing the ball much more often in 2015).
“[Iowa is] a team that plays to win the game, and things are just clicking for them,” Braglio said. “They have the momentum and are doing very well. Hopefully we can stop that momentum, and go up there and get a win.”