Georgia On Their Minds

To the right of the practice field at Dion Armstrong's high school is a farm, to the left a cotton field. Growing up in Fort Valley, Ga., Armstrong knew only one lifestyle. The people talk with a slow drawl, the food is hearty and the pace of life is unhurried.

"Just real southern," Armstrong said.

When he first arrived in College Park last year, he quickly found life to be a lot different.

"Last year was a big transition year," said Armstrong, a 6-foot-1, 303-pound redshirt freshman defensive tackle. "Several times I thought about this wasn't the place for me and that I might just want to see some other options I have."

Armstrong stuck it out because of his bond with fellow Georgia native Lamar Young, a redshirt freshman offensive guard who was going through the same growing pains. They told each other they'd do what the other did, even if it meant leaving.

"Me and him always talked about it and we decided we'd stick it out as long as each other here," Armstrong said. "I stayed because of him and through that he helped me get adjusted up here."

Said Young, "I guess we were both feeling like nobody wanted us here, we didn't want to be here. He said, ‘If you leave, I leave.' I told him the same thing. I guess we were going to travel together."

Their decision to stay at Maryland and work through a grueling freshman year has paid dividends: Armstrong is the backup at defensive tackle and slated to get significant playing time this season; Young backs up Jaimie Thomas at left guard and will also get on the field.

Despite 13 players on Maryland's roster calling Georgia or the Carolinas home, it's not an easy culture change, especially for Armstrong and Young. And even though both came from metropolitan areas in Georgia—Fort Valley is near Macon, and Jonesboro, where Young lives, is a suburb of Atlanta—the lifestyle is decidedly southern.

It didn't take long for Armstrong to feel out of place.

"As soon as I started talking, people thought it was a joke," he said. "They thought I was trying to be funny. I really didn't get what they were talking about. As soon as we got here it was happening too when we got in summer school with the rest of the players. We were arguing and what not and had me frustrated.

"I didn't have time for that, college classes are enough to get you frustrated so I didn't need anything extra on the side besides football too."

He never imagined the way he talked would be a source of aggravation. It was those first couple months when he and Young felt like foreigners. Football hadn't started and they were out on their own for the first time.

Armstrong could have gone to a school in the South. He favored Clemson at one point. He had offers from Georgia Tech, South Florida and Troy (Ala.). Auburn was close to offering.

But he wanted a new experience, one that would take him out of his comfort zone.

"My dad always told me he wanted me to get out and see different things, meet different kinds of people and just see the world like he did when he was young," Armstrong said. "He told me it would be good to have a change of scenery."

Young didn't have as many options--he had offers from Central Florida and Air Force. He earned a scholarship from Maryland at its summer camp and committed not long after.

Although their adjustment to life up north was a bit more difficult than they expected, all freshman—including regular students—go through a similar period. How quickly they overcome is a case-to-case basis, offensive line coach Tom Brattan said.

"It depends on the nature of the youngster. You can have a youngster in Pennsylvania but if they led such sheltered life and didn't get out much, I think it would be a shock coming here," said Brattan, who recruited Armstrong and Young.

As soon as school started last year and thousands of students returned to school, the two blended in. They realized how similar they were to teammates and every day became more comfortable.

"It's not a problem, it's just going to take us a minute to get used to it," Young said. "When the season started and it wasn't as bad as we thought. We were used to hard work, but college and high school are two different things so we just had to adapt. We both did fine."

With that first year out the way, they can hone their focus on football.

Armstrong is "really starting to come around and mature," defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo said. Coach Ralph Friedgen said he has the physical tools "to become a good football player. He just has to learn how to push through the tough times, and these are tough times right now."

Young impressed in Saturday's scrimmage, starting at left guard in place of the injured Thomas. "He's an upbeat guy, really enjoys playing and I think once the transition of making some friends and seeing he got a lot in common with our guys, I think he really likes it up here," Brattan said.

There's still one small thing, though, to which he has to adapt.

"The winter is crazy," Young said. "It's never this cold in Georgia."


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