For Maryland’s Stefon Diggs, ‘growing up’ comes with national exposure


(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Maryland’s Stefon Diggs is almost aggressively humble, turning individual questions into general answers about the Terrapins football team. Ask about the Heisman Trophy? He says hew would prefer to win games instead. What about leaving early for the NFL? He says he’s spending four years in College Park. He’s getting better. He receives great blocks. He’s taking things one day at a time. Squeezing anything but a perfect, by-the-book response from Diggs might be more difficult than actually dragging the elusive wide receiver down to the ground.

And based on Coach Randy Edsall’s comments Monday during Maryland football media day, it seems that the Terrapins are making a concerted effort to keep Diggs grounded. Only a sophomore, he has rapidly become the face of the Maryland football program. He appears on many lists of the nation’s best players, and by all accounts could be a Heisman candidate in the near future. That’s what happens when you break the ACC all-purpose freshman record. But guidance is still needed.

“Knowing that with his abilities, if he’s doing things a certain way, other guys will follow and fall in line with the things he’s doing,” Edsall said. “It’s always going to be a work in progress, because they’re young people, and there’s a lot of temptation. I think he can be an outstanding leader.

“I think he can only get better because he’s in those positions, because he wants to be great in everything he does. Did a great job in the classroom his first year, and again the sky’s the limit for him, but again we’re going to do everything we can to develop him holistically, so he doesn’t get a stigma — like other people — attached to him.”

Obviously, the mind drifts to the exploits of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, and hearing Edsall invoke these concerns, seemingly without prompting, is somewhat surprising. Since matriculating in College Park, Diggs has been a model citizen publicly, the only blemish a minor disciplinary issue that caused him to miss a portion of one spring practice. His Twitter account still contains an intriguing mix of mini-rants and vague motivational quotes, but he’s come a long way from February 2012, when an off-color tweet about the NBA’s Jeremy Lin caused a minor outcry.

“As you get a lot of exposure, a lot of people looking at you, you have to take it more so how you carry yourself, how people view you,” Diggs said. “You have to worry about your image. I don’t want to offend nobody and I don’t rub anybody the wrong way. That’s a part of growing up.

“I listen to the older people who talk to me. I call them my old heads, people with a lot of wisdom. They’ll teach you a lot if you listen.”

Expectations are high for the Good Counsel alum, and justifiably so. During a year when five Maryland quarterbacks took first-team snaps during practice and four – one being a linebacker — appeared in games during an injury-marred 4-8 season, Diggs provided a  beacon of hope. He led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns by a wide margin, and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.

There’s nothing to suggest Diggs can’t exceed his freshman-year production. He gained 10 pounds this summer and diversified his positioning, learning to play the outside in addition to the slot. He’s also surrounded by better weapons. Junior college transfer Deon Long could make the NFL leap this year with a solid season, and Nigel King might be Maryland’s biggest breakout candidate. Both will make it extremely difficult for opposing defenses to key solely on Diggs. Plus, he spent the summer working seven-on-seven drills with quarterback C.J. Brown, who was slated to be Maryland’s starting quarterback last season before he tore his ACL during preseason camp.

Yet despite all this, Diggs was not selected to the preseason all-ACC team on offense, earning a spot merely as a specialist. Does that fuel him?

“Not necessarily, considering the position I put my team in,” Diggs said, in perfectly political form. “I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I did okay for my team, but we didn’t win the games. I feel as if I have to do better. Me and my teammates, I feel as if I’m going to demand better from them, they’re going to demand better from me. We’re going to get better each and every day.”

Diggs was also elected to Maryland’s leadership council, representing the wide receivers and serving as the position’s de facto captain, responsible for leading the entire group. He enters the 2012 season with nearly five times as many receiving yards — 848 — than Maryland’s other returning receivers combined: 175. (Deon Long caught 47 passes for 809 yards with New Mexico in 2010.)

Simply put, Diggs is the guy.

“As a young man, I feel as if it’s all about progressing,” Diggs said. “I may have had to mature a little faster than others, but no worries. I took it on full steam and led by example off the field.”

Maryland placed Diggs front and center in its auditorium for media day, behind the same table where Edsall sat minutes before. He was the main attraction, swarmed immediately. Eight minutes into the session, a reporter approached and asked if Diggs could spare time for just two more questions.

“Take your time,” Diggs said, laughing. “I’ll be here.” And on it went, for 18 more minutes.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt · August 5, 2013