The marching band blared and the Scott Stadium crowd roared, Ian Frye’s opening kickoff booming five yards deep into the north end zone. Intoxicated by the Homecoming spirit, the Virginia fans cheered as Stefon Diggs hauled the football into his oversize teenage palms.
Frye and the Cavaliers thought that Diggs would take a knee. Standing on the sideline, Maryland Coach Randy Edsall sent telepathic thoughts onto the field, imploring his true freshman to do the same. Diggs stopped, pausing for a split second as he surveyed the options. Step by step he inched forward, creeping toward the goal line. Suddenly, Diggs took off, like a jungle cat bound for greener pastures.
“He kind of tricked us,” Frye said.
Take a number. Welcome to the club. Care for an oxygen tank after another jaunt that left you breathless?
The box score from Maryland’s 27-20 win over Virginia declared it a 100-yard kick return, per college football rules. It was really 105 yards, or thereabouts. For all the electricity Diggs has conjured from the ether in his short Maryland career, from dazzling runs to flag football-like spin moves, the Good Counsel graduate hadn’t yet brought a kick or punt return to the house.
Consider the house finally brought.
“Nothing he does surprises me,” Edsall said, a slight hint in his voice that, maybe, Diggs finally created a little mystery.
The band’s instruments sank. Eyes blinked. Heads turned, looking at one another, wondering what in the world just happened. On the sideline, Marcus Leak and the Terps were going crazy. “That just got the momentum going towards us,” Leak said.
It was a wedge formation, Diggs later said, humbly attributing everything to his blockers. But Diggs makes FBS defenders look sluggish, grasping at air as he spins by.
It’s all about watching film and scheming, Diggs said. Every game, he planned on getting a big return. He had come close before Saturday, but never tasted paydirt. This game, he thought to himself, just go out and play. Yet the moment he touched the ball, the wizardry returned.
The middle opened up. Diggs sprang through. He danced to the outside, surging down the sideline. One man to beat: Frye, the tricked kicker. No problem.
“I don’t recall being touched,” said Diggs, who finished with four catches for 89 yards. “My blockers did a great job. I didn’t get touched and we got a touchdown.”
As if it were so simple and casual. Good blocks equal a touchdown. On Maryland’s next drive, Diggs took a short route 60 yards. Hauling in the crossing pattern from quarterback Perry Hills, Diggs knew Virginia’s linebacker was draped behind him. Once the linebacker grabbed jersey, Diggs spun away and “saw green grass.” He called it instinct, another catch-and-run that set up another Maryland score. Just like he did against West Virginia. Just like he did against Wake Forest.
He fell short of stringing together a third straight 100-yard receiving effort, but topped 200 all-purpose yards again.
“Diggs,” linebacker Darin Drakeford said, his voice trailing off in wonder. “He’s going to be one of the greatest players to ever come through here. Him with the ball is simply amazing. When you look at it, he looks like he’s jogging. And then he’s in the end zone.”
Just like that. Poof.
Don’t blink, or you’ll miss another trick.