COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Move over Terps offensive line walk-on legends Andrew Gonnella and Paul Pinegar, there may be a more compelling candidate this year in the trenches for the 2-0 Terps.
Senior starting guard Maurice Shelton's recruiting was so light out of Eleanor Roosevelt High School (but academic bona fides so good), that Division III academic powers like MIT and Carnegie Mellon were the biggest name schools after him. Not exactly football powers, though, as Maryland was only the only Power 5 school to even offer him a walk-on spot. Delaware called him once, but not even a walk-on offer was extended at the time.
So here he is at Maryland four years later, a 6-3, 305-pound unassuming starting right guard on a Terps line that features three former walk-ons as starters.
Shelton, left tackle Michael Dunn and left guard Mike Minter have helped the Terps' offense roll to the unbeaten start, protecting quarterback Perry Hills, who leads the B1G Ten in passing completion percentage, and a run game that is rolling up 277.0 YPG, a nifty 6.2 yards per attempt clip.
Now, the first two games have been against lightweights Howard and FIU, and the stakes get higher this week at UCF, which boasts a formidable defensive front. But Shelton and Maryland's offensive line are a microcosm of the overachieving Terps this season, and possibly Maryland's best line in a decade former walk-ons notwithstanding.
Shelton, Terps head man D.J. Durkin says, is simply a worker. Not exceptional in any one area, but solid across the board in all. And very, very consistent, just the kind of player he loves.
"I like to think I don't bust a lot, try and be where I need to be for the play for the technique I am given for as long as I can be," Shelton said of his game.
Last spring Shelton was awarded a scholarship during a team meeting at the Gossett Football Team House after excelling and making the Champions Club three consecutive times for the new staff just hitting the ground running.
"I was just trying to do what I could to improve behind the guys that we had last year: Andrew Zeller, Stephen Grommer, Evan Mulrooney, Ryan Doyle. They were all good players I just tried to learn behind and take some of their game in just trying to be the best that I could be every day," Shelton said.
Teammates consider Shelton an affable sort, always keeping it light and joking. Said Terps junior tight end Derrick Hayward of his fellow line mate:
"I would say personality-wise, Maurice has one of the best personalities on the team. When I first came in here, he was the first to welcome you in. And now to see him get this chance to play after all his hard work, well you can see its not always physical ability that determines how far you can go'" Hayward said.
As for Shelton the technician, where he rates among the Terps best, Hayward said:
"He always seems to be so consistent with performance, not like a guy who one day is good and the next day not so good. And they have all played great, we have gotten great movement these first two games thanks to guys like Maurice, and I expect that to continue each week."
Shelton had an academic scholarship coming out of high school with a 3.5 GPA with plans to study electrical engineering. Now as a grad student, the 'ship moved to football last spring.
Going back to his recruiting days, he visited MIT in Boston, while Carnegie Melon in Pittsburgh also tickled his fancy for engineering and he was admitted there. Now, Shelton is pursuing real estate development in graduate school at UMD. He has two semesters to go. Looking back on his college selection process, he added:
"I think playing football was the biggest thing, so when they (Maryland) offered me the walk-on spot here, well I was leaning heavily here. Here they have the whole balance of athletics and academics, they want you to be the best that you can be. Those were really good schools to get into, but the football there would have just been icing on the cake."
This week the emphasis shifts to the best defensive line the Terps have seen yet, with UCF allowing less than 100 yards rushing a game. Shelton and Co. see it as the next step/challenge up.
"They are good run defenders with those three big guys they have up front. We are just trying to scout them right now and get ready for this week. They definitely fly to the ball, they are big hitters, so we just have to out-run them, out-work them. They are stout up front so we have to move them off the ball."
Shelton said the Terps have a ball security drill for four minutes at the start of every practice, with even linemen getting in the mix and toting the rock. They have made it "a huge, huge emphasis," he said, and the linemen are heavily involved "and we have even had seminars on it. Everyone on the team needs to be able to carry the ball. The plan is to win the turnover battle every week," he added of a Terps offense that has yet to turn the ball over through two games. Shelton said they have worked hard to "improve their tempo and play faster now," and better communication has been a key.
"The playbook is very simple and broken down, and I think in the off-season that was one of the things we really worked to get down," he said of timing and pace that has carried over.
Meanwhile, he has a wide range of backs behind him to tote said rock, and that's even with starter Wes Brown missing the first three games under suspension.
"It's good because the backs stay fresh and give different looks the defenses have to prepare for. They are all hard workers back there and (after the first game) every running back in the stable got a Champions Club award. And they earned it, they all had a very good game," Shelton said.
Looking back, Shelton was 6-2, 285-pounds coming out of high school, and not in ideal college football shape with a poor body. Those days seem long ago and in the rear-view mirror.
"I wasn't very highly recruited heavily out of high school, but I like to think I worked hard for it," he said.