Shawn Petty gets recognized far more often these days on Maryland’s campus. Sure, his brick-like frame and dreadlocks would make him stand out nonetheless, but the Terps’ starting quarterback has made a few more friends these days when students stop him on the streets and say hello. Nothing negative or derogatory. Just the same basic phrase that has defined his improbable and involuntary ascent.
“Oh,” they say, “you’re the linebacker-quarterback.”
Three weeks ago, Petty was biding his time on the defensive scout team, seeing Maryland’s offense only from the other side of the line of scrimmage. He was just another name on the roster, a true freshman from Eleanor Roosevelt High School destined for a redshirt. Now he’s the answer to any number of unfortunate trivia questions.
The day will inevitably come when Petty returns to his recruited position on Maryland’s defense. Coach Randy Edsall says he will evaluate the situation after the season concludes in two weeks, but it’s hard to envision a scenario wherein Petty fits in on the offense.
C.J. Brown has progressed nicely from his preseason ACL injury; he’s off crutches and walking around with a knee brace, and should be ready for spring practice. Quarterback Perry Hills, who started seven games before succumbing to the same fate, underwent recent surgery and could also be ready for spring practice. Both Devin Burns (Lisfranc) and Caleb Rowe (ACL) will likely still be rehabbing in mid-April.
Add transfer Ricardo Young to the mix, and Maryland suddenly will have six quarterbacks with at least some semblance of Football Bowl Subdivision experience (not to mention Elite 11 recruit Shane Cockerille out of Gilman School).
Petty could see time at quarterback in spring practice, again serving as a stopgap until his more seasoned teammates return from their injuries, but says he’s taking things day by day, unfocused on an uncertain future.
“It was more a surprise than anything,” Petty said. “I’m just trying to work hard right now. Any time I’m playing football I’m having fun. It’s been a great experience.”
Not that he was given a choice. Petty always fancied himself a college quarterback, even after receiving zero offers at the position out of high school, but with limited preparation he has struggled with ball security since starting against Georgia Tech in a 33-13 loss two weeks ago. If Maryland had its druthers, however, Petty would still be at linebacker, building up strength and experience before contributing for years to come.
“It wasn’t, ‘Shawn, do you want to do this?’ It was, ‘Shawn, you’re going to do this,’ ” Coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. “Deep down, in Shawn’s heart, he always thought he was a quarterback, and really relished the opportunity to go out there and play. After the season’s over, we’ll sit down and evaluate where he is, knowing we have guys coming back, guys coming in.”
And that could leave Petty once again on the outside looking in, armed with little else save a solid story. That he’s managed to stay composed this far, insisting on shouldering the burden for his mistakes and demanding improvements, says plenty.
“But again, I just think what Shawn’s been asked to do is just, the more and more people I’ve talked to in this business, they’ve never seen anything like it,” Edsall said. “For him to come and step in the games he’s stepped in just says a lot about who he is as a person, how tough a competitor he is, just his willingness to do what’s best for the team. I still think he’s a pretty good linebacker.”
With a linebacker’s frame, Petty has absorbed contact well and flashed potential in Maryland’s read-option scheme. But he lost three fumbles on Saturday against Clemson and missed early opportunities in the passing game vs. Georgia Tech. The college game was just moving too fast.
And now Petty and the Terps host No. 10 Florida State, which is ranked first nationally in total defense, second in rushing defense, fourth in scoring defense and fifth in pass defense. Cornellius Carradine and Bjoern Werner are first and second in the ACC, respectively, in sacks per game.
“He never had even seen this offense until about a week and a half before he was thrown into a starting role,” offensive lineman Justin Gilbert said. “For him to pick up the things as fast as he did has been awesome. We had his back from the start. Whatever he needs, we told him, let us know. We’ve tried to make sure he doesn’t get hit, he can pick up the holes easier, we’ve got a lot more experience. We’ve been talking to him in the huddle, getting him to settle down, a little more posed because we’ve been out there longer than him. We’ll help him out any way we can.”
Petty has two games left in his movie-like cameo. Maybe he’ll become a linebacker again. Maybe circumstances dictate he remains under center. Chances are, however, Petty will keep getting recognized around campus this winter, not anymore as the linebacker-quarterback, but as the guy who used to be.