Amid the hype surrounding National Signing Day on Wednesday, the Maryland football team trotted out its three early signees to meet reporters for the first time. Over the next few days, we’ll introduce those players.
First up is wide receiver Deon Long, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College.
Deon Long knows the hype preceded his arrival in College Park. He’s heard the buzz surrounding his record-setting junior college season at Iowa Western, stemming from his 100 receptions and national championship. And unlike those who block out the excitement to keep focus, Long simply internalizes it for motivation. After all, as the second straight five-star wide receiver to commit to Maryland, he has a reputation to uphold.
Much in the upcoming months will be written about Coach Randy Edsall’s rejuvenated receiving corps. Stefon Diggs returns after a blistering freshman season, as do Marcus Leak, Nigel King and Levern Jacobs. Levern’s brother, the speedster Taivon Jacobs, flipped his commitment from Ohio State on Signing Day. And then there’s Long, a well-traveled junior transfer with four schools under his belt since graduating from Dunbar High School in Washington.
First Long went to Hargrave Military Academy, where he learned discipline through 5 a.m. wake-up calls and receiving orders from ranking officials seven or eight years older. Then he enrolled at West Virginia, lasting just five months before heading to New Mexico. After Mike Locksley was fired as the Lobos’ head coach, Long departed to Iowa Western, finally landing at Maryland.
“I think my journey made me a better player,” Long said Wednesday. “It made me stronger, got me bigger. It kept me hungry.”
Long feasted plenty at Iowa Western. He was a first-team junior college all-American, racking up 1,625 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns. In 12 games, he scored multiple touchdowns nine times, including an absurd 20 catches for 246 yards and three touchdowns against New Mexico Military Institute on Sept. 1.
Long figures to play the “X” receiver in Maryland’s offense, now run by Locksley, who became the Terps’ offensive coordinator after leaving New Mexico. The offense is virtually the same, Long said, save a few route tweaks or concepts.
“For the most part, I remember everything,” Long said. “We haven’t even gotten on the field yet, but seven-on-sevens, the hand signals and all that, it all comes back to me. I feel like every route we run are routes that I run. Whereas at West Virginia they tried to make me into a bubble receiver, a swing-route receiver, stuff like that. That’s not what I do. I like to stretch the field, run post-corners, read coverages. I like doing that.”
Long’s presence should also take pressure off Diggs, who racked up 1,896 all-purpose yards and nine total touchdowns. Diggs and Long have known each other for around two years, making the transition even easier.
“That’s something Stefon and I talked about all along,” Long said. “I’m not going to say he was the only playmaker on the team, but he was doing his thing this year. Teams key on that, and they game plan for that week in and week out. I’m just going to make them throw me the ball, too, so we can be that outside-inside threat.
“I’ve been running routes with them for the longest. Our timing and stuff, that’s down. We argue, do everything that brothers do. That’ll just make us better.”
Long has also developed a close relationship with local products Tavon Wilson, a safety for the New England Patriots, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Arrelious Benn. Both played at Illinois, where Locksley was the offensive coordinator for four seasons. Benn, Long said, has recently become a big brother figure, keeping him motivated and grounded.
Expectations will be high for Long come next fall. He and Diggs figure to form one of the ACC’s most potent receiving tandems. But Long’s accustomed to that hype. If anything, he’ll just internalize it and deliver, especially as he adjusts to life at Maryland this spring.
“Really don’t have no strength for extra activities, like going out on the weekends,” Long said. “I really don’t have no motivation to, probably until after spring ball when I get my feet under me and make a name in the system. Other than that, I’ve just been relaxing, trying to get reacquainted with the offense.”