GREENSBORO, N.C. – Dexter McDougle closed his eyes and shook his head vigorously, as if that would shoo away the bad vibes. Standing on the sidelines and watching quarterback after quarterback writhe on the turf was brutal enough, stuck in some nightmare where ACLs shred like cheese and not even the unimaginable was quite absurd enough. But asking McDougle to relive it? Again and again and again?
“I think we’ve had enough,” he said, halfway through a 50-minute media session at the ACC football kickoff, when the senior cornerback was asked about Maryland’s injury situation roughly a dozen times. “I don’t want to talk about none of that bad stuff. Let’s stay positive.”
Across the table sat the first domino who fell. During preseason camp last August, C.J. Brown made an innocent cut during a non-contact drill. His right knee buckled. Torn ACL. Out for the year.
That phrase became glued to the Maryland football program, the injuries rising to almost laughable levels, if only it weren’t so darn depressing. Perry Hills started seven games before a chop block fell him against North Carolina State. Devin Burns played one half and wound up with a Lisfranc injury. Caleb Rowe tore his ACL stepping out of bounds at Boston College, finished the game and then got shelved. Linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield suffered a similar fate the following week against Georgia Tech.
Maybe Maryland found stability for its final four games, if stability meant throwing linebacker Shawn Petty under center. One season-ending injury begat another, leading to six straight losses and a 4-8 record, but the Terrapins hope that’s old news. Last season, McDougle said, was marked by what-ifs. This fall is more about the what-could-bes.
“Just never experienced anything like that,” McDougle said. “When C.J. went down, it was like okay, we know one of our leaders went down, but we have people who can step up and play. Then the next guy went down, and the next guy went down, then the next guy went down. It just seemed like nothing was going to go right for us that year. I don’t know. It’s really depressing, and just looking back on it, it just makes me so sad.
“This is a lot of what-ifs. What if we made that field goal [against North Carolina State], what if no one was hurt. It hurts looking back, but we have to look forward now. Right now, we have all our players. It’s just so promising right now. I feel like nothing can go wrong.”
He paused briefly, then broke into laughter, shaking his head at the all-too-obvious jinx. Of those who suffered season-ending injuries, it’s possible only Brown will see the field this season. Burns transferred out, Hartsfield graduated and both Hills and Rowe ideally would serve as backup quarterbacks. One or both could redshirt. But that means progress. That means the insanity is gone.
Obviously, projecting Maryland’s season with a healthy Brown – or even Hills, Rowe or Burns – is a fruitless exercise. The Terps spent three straight weeks getting bludgeoned with Petty under center, before nearly upsetting North Carolina in the season finale. But McDougle insisted that the team was bowl-bound before the injuries occurred, and can right the ship with key parts back again.
“I’m telling you,” he said, “All we have to do is stay healthy. If we stay healthy everything will be fine. What gives me that confidence? Last year, I felt like we were so close, even with Shawn Petty, a linebacker, playing quarterback. This year, we have everybody and healthy. It gives me that much more promise that we’ll be fine.”
At some point during his interview, McDougle was asked if he heard any jokes about Maryland moving to the Big Ten. No, he said, but he did hear one about the team’s quarterbacks.
“They said we need bubble wrap or something,” he said.
Across the table, Brown halted his answer and piped up.
“Yo, chill on that bro,” he said, and then they both laughed again.