COLLEGE PARK -- Mike Minter arrived at the Terps’ Aug. 31 presser in Tyser Tower with a full beard and, despite the temperatures pushing 90 degrees late August, sporting an over-sized pair of Behind the Back Christmas-motif lacrosse shorts. Red and green, and X-Mas bulbs and lights design, and all.
Listed at probably a generous 6-foot-3, Minter, the former nondescript walk-on from Severna Park, hardly looks the part of starting left guard in the Big Ten.
But he continues to defy the odds.
A grinder who many call Maryland's "foxhole" guy (you want to be in the foxhole with him), Minter rose to starter last year -- and full scholarship -- before a shoulder injury shelved him for all but three games.
Much to the overachiever's dismay, he missed all of new head coach D.J. Durkin's first spring camp, when he hoped to prove himself over again to the new staff, but rallied late in August camp to win back the starting job from junior JaJuan Dulaney, who held it through spring and much of fall camp.
The Terps have many perseverance stories (see Perry Hills, Andrew Isaacs, DeAndre Lane, etc). But here's a guy who probably never should have been at Maryland in the first place continuing to defy the odds. Walk-on, spate of injuries, and more competition on perhaps the Terps best offensive line in a decade notwithstanding.
Minter will get the nod Sept. 3 in the season, and Durkin era opener, versus Howard at Maryland Stadium, along with senior Michael Dunn (another former walk-on now getting pro looks); sophomore Brendan Moore at center; senior Maurice Shelton (yet another former walk-on no big schools wanted) at right guard; and sophomore and former five-star Damian Prince at right tackle, the only true blue-chipper in the first five. Dulaney, Derwin Gray, Joe Marchese, Terrance Davis and E.J. Donahue round out the two-deep on a UMD line that has finally built some quality depth.
"It's definitely been a journey, and you know I am just really fortunate to have the coaching staff that we have and the trainers that we have getting me to the point that I am to be able to play and do the things I am able to do on the field," Minter said Aug. 31. "Coach Durkin has always been about rewarding achievement, and now it's nice to see I can play again."
Starting senior quarterback Perry Hills said Minter's hard work has rubbed off on many a Terp this fall.
"It's definitely hard on him having to go through an injury and then missing some of the winter stuff. It's tough on guys, but at the end of the day u can look at it two ways: 'alright whatever. I am done. I am down on the depth chart now.' Or you can say I can push myself because I realized how much I miss this. It was taken away from me. And just keep pushing yourself and pushing yourself and that will drive you.
"But he is definitely a gritty lineman, real tough-nosed. He is one hundred percent effort one hundred percent of the time."
Said junior Shane Cockerille, who has had his own journey from backup quarterback to starting linebacker now:
"Mike's definitely a guy who works real hard. Every time I see Mike he's got a shoulder, an ankle, a hamstring or something. But he always finds a way to work through it, push through. He's definitely a hard-nosed kid and someone we can definitely use on the offensive line where you need tough, hard-nosed kids."
Minter said "it sucked" being out, with one issue after another slowing him down be it at practices or lifting in the winter and the spring. Then there were the doubts in fall camp if he could win back his job during the first three weeks.
"But we have the best athletic training staff in the country. It was frustrating but it worked out it in the end," Minter said.
Minter and Dulaney and others rotated reps through fall camp, but in the last week of August camp, actually the last day, is when Minter said he was told he'd be the starter.
"I wasn't really shocked because you go into the season with goals in mind, like staring. So I came into this season with the mindset I was going to be right where I left off last year, if not better, so I do feel like I have earned it."
Minter said the offensive line is in the best shape of their lives, and "Coach (Rick) Court's off-season winter, summer, camp work, we have been grinding harder than we have ever grinded before. We are just going to go out and be more aggressive than we have ever been before."
As for that line, Minter said the group has built good chemistry, starting off the field where he lives with Dunn and Shelton. They play video games, go out to eat together, and it has come in handy when the bullets are flying.
"We all live together, and all that time and the workouts, well it's the toughest thing we have ever had to go through as a team," Minter said.
The new up-tempo spread will also test them as for its pace, something Minter said he and the line are ready for.
"You have to really know your assignments and execute it at a high level. We are moving so much faster than we have in the past. And you can't lose any of your technique even though you are going to be tired, even though you are going at a very fast pace. So it's building mental toughness and physical toughness and repping it over and over and over again."
The biggest change he said, though, is the change in attitude around College Park and the Gossett team house.
"I feel like it is night and day," he said of the new regime. "Coach Durkin and his staff he has brought in, I feel like it's the best staff in the country that he has put together for us in terms of how much they have done for us. We have these hydration tests we do, we weigh in before and after everything....there are all these little things we have never paid attention to before that make a big difference. I feel like they have completely changed the culture. So we're just really excited for this season to get started."
At left tackle, Dunn is the leader up front both by words and example, especially this camp more vocally, Minter said. He walked on out of Whitman High School, and Minter looks up to him every day.
"He is the guy you look at and it's like that's what I want to do on my play. Doing the right thing....a guy as a model for the team, the guy you want to play next to, be on and off the field with, that kind of thing."
As for the youngsters, Minter said they have all stepped up. But freshman Terrance Davis, listed at No. 2 right guard, has been his biggest surprise.
"Terrance, I didn't really know till the summer. But seeing him play, well he's probably been the biggest one," Minter said.