COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Much has been made of the recently installed “looseness factor” in Maryland’s locker room in the wake of former head coach Randy Edsall’s departure Oct. 11, and junior slot DeAndre Lane was the latest Terp to chime in on the seismic shift. The Catonsville, Md., native provided a rather enlightening example in describing the mood swing. He explained how interim head coach Mike Locksley has instructed the team to engage in a little two-hand-touch the night before gameday. The idea, per Lane, is to relax and have fun, and then carry that attitude right into Saturday’s bout.
“Locks tells us all the time, ‘Just go out there and have fun,’” said Lane, a somewhat forgotten man who has suddenly emerged in Maryland’s offense. “So on Friday nights we have this thing called ‘Terp Ball,’ where it’s like we’re playing football in our backyard like when we were kids. That’s how [Locksley] wants us to play Saturday -- not play tight. I feel like when we have that kind of attitude, we execute a lot better.”
Now, Maryland (2-8) hasn’t recorded a victory since Locksley assumed the head gig, but it’s obvious the offense is no longer flat-lining. The play-calling has been more creative, the squad seem more energetic and a few dormant players have sprung to life -- namely, the receiver Lane.
During the Nov. 7 loss to Wisconsin, Lane recorded a highlight-reel 41-yard catch as part of a career-best three-reception, 63-yard day. On the Dez-Brant-like grab, Lane sprinted down the seam; beat the Badgers’ defensive back; sprung forward like an outfielder laying out for a fly ball; and made a finger-tip snag at the opponent's 33-yard line.
“No, I didn’t practice that back then,” laughed Lane, in reference to a question about ‘Terp Ball’ and his backyard-football days. ”I just had an opportunity to make a play, and I took advantage of it.”
That wasn’t even Lane’s favorite moment this year. He said the 10-yard, toe-tap touchdown against Penn State was probably the most memorable of his five catches this year.
“I hadn’t reached the end zone since high school, so it was a big moment in my career,” Lane said. “And it was a better play than I thought it was … But then I saw the video.
“But I don’t get too many opportunities, so I have to take advantage of them when they’re there.”
Not many opportunities indeed. The former Catonsville High star didn’t have a single offensive touch the last two seasons and was without a 2015 reception until pulling in a 16-yard pass during UMD’s loss to Ohio State Oct. 10. Since then, Lane has pulled in the touchdown against Penn State and had the aforementioned outing against Wisconsin.
"It's good to see a kid like DeAndre get rewarded,” Locksley said previously. “He's worked his butt off since he's been here, and he's always been a guy who's been the fourth or fifth guy in at the receiver position… We made some decisions that we want to play a lot of players. I know I talked to both sides of the ball about making sure we get some guys involved early in the game that hadn't typically been involved, because our starters were playing so many snaps and in the fourth quarter we weren't always as sharp as we needed to be.
“When you do that, they also feel like they have some ownership in the program, and their concentration level goes up. We have better effort in practice when guys feel like they're going to play.”
It’s another significant Locksley change the Terps have readily taken to. Lane said his teammates have been showing more “passion” than before UMD’s interim assumed control.
“If you’re not playing, you feel like, ‘OK I’m just here.’ And you feel kind of left out,” Lane said. "But everyone getting more playing time, you feel like, ‘I know I can make this play.’ You get more fired up and have more energy.”
Lane is well aware he’ll have to sustain that energy, and continue producing, to draw even more looks in the future. He said he “can tell” the opportunities will come based on Locksley’s offensive adjustments, but the local receiver has to “show” the coaches he’s deserving.
“I just have to keep balling and take advantage of this opportunity,” Lane said. “I have to keep making plays.”
At certain points during the last year, Lane admitted he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be “balling” in College Park. He acknowledged his frustration with the lack of looks, and said he even considered transferring down a level like former UMD running back (and Lane’s friend) Jacquille Veii. Lane ultimately decided to stick around and continue plugging away rather than leave school, acclimate himself to a different program, learn an entire playbook, and establish new relationships.
“It hurts to watch your team lose and not be able to contribute,” Lane said. “But I just felt comfortable [at Maryland] with the people and the connections I’ve built. I’m going to stick it out until I graduate and hopefully the opportunities will come. My teammates, they’ve always encouraged me. Like Vern [receiver Levern Jacobs], he just told me to keep balling and my chance would be there.”
In addition to his teammates, Lane said he had extensive conversations with his mother, his former high school coach, and numerous Catonsville friends he’s known for years. He said they have never ceased supporting him, letting him know he’d have his shot to shine at Maryland.
Plus Lane said he began focusing in even more after his daughter’s birth last February.
“My mom, she’s been by my side the whole time. She’s told me all along I could do it, I just had to wait for my opportunity,” Lane said. “She’s so proud of me. And Coach [Rich] Hambor, we’ve been talking a lot more than before, and he’s been letting me know how proud he is of me and how I could do it. And a lot of the players I knew in high school kept saying the same thing: ‘Look, you’ll get your shot, don’t give up.’
“Then I had a daughter, and that kind of gave me extra motivation -- not just for myself, but more like, I have someone else to take care of.”
Next up, Lane and the Terps have No. 14 Michigan State (8-1) in East Lansing, Mich. It’s a formidable foe with a formidable defense that figures to challenge Maryland’s playmakers.
“We just have to keep pushing through,” Lane said. “Even though we’re not in a bowl game, we still want to win and get the best record possible. We have to keep pushing.”
Yet another adopted mentality that should serve the Terps' program well moving forward.