He couldn't, however, have foreseen what he did Saturday, breaking tackle after tackle, falling, diving and dragging defenders into the end zone. He had three touchdown runs, each one seemingly more impressive than the previous, and highlighted Maryland's offense in its 31-14 win over Villanova.
"I think he's hungry," said coach Ralph Friedgen, who won his fourth consecutive opener. "He sees this is his last chance. I think he's the fastest he's been and in great shape. I thought he ran harder today than I've ever seen him run. A couple of those touchdowns were all determination."
Lattimore became the first Terrapin running back to score three times since Mario Merrills did it against Temple in 2005. He ran for 106 yards on 21 carries and eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for his career.
On his first touchdown run early in the second quarter, Lattimore carried a tackler for seven yards before diving into the end zone. He broke four tackles on his second, a 14-yarder, and three on his third, an 18-yard run that erased any possibility of an upset.
Lattimore also had six catches for 33 yards, providing a reliable target for quarterback Jordan Steffy when there was nothing open downfield.
"[Jordan] always lets me know, ‘Keon, you're my last option, so I need you to be there for me," Lattimore said.
Hitting Lattimore, usually the check-down receiver out of the backfield, is what Steffy does better than any other quarterback Friedgen has had. Even with two drops—one by Isaiah Williams which could have gone for a score—Steffy missed on only five throws, going 19-of-24 for 174 yards.
It was the best debut by a quarterback under Friedgen, who said after the game that Steffy is different from past signal callers.
"He's much more interactive than some of the other guys we've had here," Friedgen said. "Being around here for three years he understands what's going on pretty good too. He even told me I made a couple of good calls."
The confidence that Steffy had shown all through the summer and fall carried over into last night's game. Darrius Heyward-Bey, who caught six of his passes for 81 yards, could see his poise in the huddle.
"Jordan's confidence is above everybody else's right now," he said. "He goes in the huddle and he calls the play and you see it in his eyes. He's ready to go and that's what you need to be a good quarterback."
Any questions of whether Steffy would look like he did in appearances last year and his freshman year were answered early. He completed nine of his first ten passes and eluded trouble with surprising speed and shiftiness. His only mistake of the night came when he put too much air under a throw into the end zone and was intercepted right before the half.
When he went down with cramps in the third quarter, he refused to get carted off the field. He ran off the field and back on a few minutes later and immediately went over to the offense gathered on the sideline.
"[Jordan] said, ‘I'm not getting on that thing,' Lattimore recalls. "He willed himself off the field and that's the sign of a true leader."
Steffy played the next series and drove Maryland 82 yards down the field. He capped it off with a ten-yard run for a touchdown. After the game, Friedgen made a matter-of-fact statement, one which he hasn't come close to doling out to previous first-time starters.
"Jordan Steffy," he said, "was exceptional."
And with his quarterback's performance Saturday, it was perhaps Friedgen who gained the most confidence.
Steffy and Lattimore lead Maryland in victory
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