COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Shane Cockerille eased into the Terps media get-together Aug. 31 afternoon at Tyser Tower sporting his best Glen Campbell-like pompadour 'doo', cool as a cucumber as always.
The ultimate competitor who has always kept his cool -- be it as a former four-star quarterback at The Gilman School (Baltimore) or as a nationally-ranked prep wrestler -- Cockerille just pulled the old-school (like Campbell reference) feat of going from Terps backup quarterback to starting outside linebacker as a redshirt sophomore at College Park.
And on this day he addressed the media for the first time after being named atop the heap, putting years of frustration and position changes (and even toying with the idea of transferring) before his Terrapin career barely got started.
"I think I am really ready, and I can't wait for the first game to see what I can do. I have been wanting to play this whole time, especially on defense, so now to finally get a chance, I think I am ready for it," the 6-1, 236-pounder said.
Cockerille said the transition since early in spring camp last year after D.J. Durkin took over has gone well enough, while he is always pointing up his technique still. But as a former quarterback, the coaches say he has great scope and vision of the field and anticipates well.
"Now it's just being able to take on the big offensive linemen week in and week out. Being able to play at a fast pace, having good eyes, good footwork, and just being a good player (at the new spot) all the time," he said.
From former Elite 11 national quarterback as a high school senior three years ago, to even H-Back at Maryland last year when his career was floundering, Cockerille has weathered the storm. He comes from great athletic stock, and his little sister at Roland Park has already accepted an early lacrosse scholarship to Syracuse. Shane Cockerille could have been en elite college wrestler as well, and all those traits are conveying well to his new defensive home at UMD.
"I mean, when I was playing quarterback, I was 222 pounds. So I was kinda staying on the slimmer side because I had to move a little bit," he said of the physical transition. "But now taking on linemen, taking on fullbacks, making tackles, you got to be a little big bulkier. But the transition has gone pretty well, as I have always been a kid that's been pretty strong in the weight room naturally. So I think everything has gone pretty well and I can't wait to get going."
Cockerille said all the Terps two-way players this season (and there could be many) begin with being "tough," and he is still on special teams units, too. There is no better example of toughness on the team as quarterback Perry Hills, also a former heralded prep wrestler. Cockerille can relate.
"You know, once you get to a certain level in wrestling you have to have that kind of competitive mindset, that toughness. You have to be very, very competitive at that level."
Cockerille took quickly to the new staff, and said he was overjoyed to get the call last spring after spending the first week at quarterback but mentioning to the staff in one-on-ones he would rather play defense.
"I would definitely say it was a huge compliment to me (the coaching staff confidence in him to make the move) as I am a versatile kid, and able to play on special teams, offense, defense. I was playing quarterback and wasn't really having fun with it before and wanted to play defense."
He said the move was made easier by upperclassman Terps 'backers Jermaine Carter Jr. and Jalen Brooks, the other two starters.
"Jermaine and Jalen really took me under their wings. Jermaine stressed footwork and things like that, and Jalen, well Jalen is a very smart kid. So it was both mental and physical for me, and they taught me a lot."
The former prep safety had never really played linebacker before making the move in the spring after Durkin took over. Now it's mostly the technical points, like eye placement, that he is honing in on.
"I have good eyes, and obviously I watch a lot of film," Cockerille said. "Just the big thing is going out there now and playing, doing it every play, I guess my biggest negative, I guess in critiquing myself, is if my eyes are not in right places I tend to be in the wrong spot. So mostly that I am working on."
Cockerille said what's best about the new defense under Durkin and defensive coordinator Andy Buh is its 'attack mode' throughout.
"The aggression, the competitiveness....everything we do we have great schemes that are full of aggression. Coach likes to call it 'controlled aggression.'"
But best of all is the overall feeling/culture in the program now, Cockerille said.
"It's changed a lot, and it's definitely something we needed. Before I felt were weren't as much as a family, weren't as close as a team, there wasn't as much energy at practice, it was kinda of a drag. When the new coaches got here, they explained to us the plan, worked us like crazy, but I think it made everyone closer as a team. And people are willing to play for each other now. The whole vibe of the football team has changed for sure.
"The higher energy....we have a blast when we go out there. You are just more involved and cared for, which makes us want to play for them more."