Terps linebacker Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil looking to prove himself

August 19, 2013

Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil awoke Saturday feeling like he had something to prove. The junior linebacker begins many days this way. He thinks about the Division I coaches who passed on his talents out of Towson High School. He remembers the teammates, full scholarships paying their ways onto the Maryland football team, who dared to doubt a walk-on transfer.

But on this morning, hours before Byrd Stadium opened its gates for an intrasquad scrimmage, before he collected four bone-crushing sacks and stole the spotlight from his teammates, Cudjoe-Virgil allowed himself a moment of peaceful introspection. Saturday was an audition in front of the decision-makers of the Maryland coach staff, and Cudjoe-Virgil wanted to make an impression. He called his mother and a close friend back home in Baltimore. Then he put the phone away and began to focus.

“I just have to think about what it took to get here,” Cudjoe-Virgil said later, standing on the sideline as his teammates scribbled postgame autographs for fans. “That’s the thing that gets me focused. It’s been a long journey, being pushed aside … coming out of high school and stuff. I come out here with a chip on my shoulder. That’s it.”

Cudjoe-Virgil’s journey begins long before he arrived at the University of Maryland, or even in the state itself. He immigrated from his native Trinidad around a decade ago, leaving behind extended family to pursue better opportunities stateside. His father still lives there, and they only see each other occasionally. They reunited for the first time in years last season at a Maryland home game.

A two-time captain at Towson High School and an all-county defensive end, Cudjoe-Virgil settled for a scholarship at Seton Hill University, a Division II school in Pennsylvania with an enrollment of less than 3,000 that only began admitting male students in 2002. As a freshman, Cudjoe-Virgil played sparingly, recording 14 tackles in 10 of 11 games.

Then he broke out. In 2011, he blocked a single-season school-record six kicks, including two in one game, and made 44 tackles at defensive end. He was elected a captain entering his junior year, but still yearned for something better, in a place much bigger.

Cudjoe-Virgil gave away his scholarship to walk on at Maryland. Even though Coach Randy Edsall quickly put him on the roster last August, Cudjoe-Virgil still says it caused “a financial burden on my family.” He felt underestimated, too, as if teammates expected the Division II transfer to settle for the scout team or, at best, special teams. Cudjoe-Virgil had higher goals.

Sitting out the season per NCAA transfer rules, he was the two-time scout team defensive player of the week. Today, he ranks second on the depth chart at the Will linebacker position, behind Marcus Whitfield. He will play this season. A lot.

Except Cudjoe-Virgil doesn’t carry himself like a backup, nor did he perform like one Saturday. Elected by his coaches to represent the outside linebackers on Maryland’s leadership council, Cudjoe-Virgil sacked quarterback Perry Hills three times and Caleb Rowe once. He might have set some sort of summer scrimmage record, had such marks existed.

“He played well,” Edsall said. “I like that effort, and I think he’s been showing that kind of effort ever since he got here. He’s a guy who we thought would always be in the mix. We’ll take a look at the film, evaluate it and see just how he did.”

Cudjoe-Virgil is long past the point of irrelevance, and he might have outgrown the underdog label, too. But he still feels like the outside world hasn’t taken notice. He still thinks about those who scour Maryland’s depth chart, stop at his name and wonder how a Division II transfer made it this far. It helps him focus.

“I still feel like people probably underestimate me,” he said. “We haven’t had our first game yet. I’m just looking forward to our first game, looking forward to our first win.”

MORE FROM THE POST ON MARYLAND FOOTBALL

News and notes from Saturday’s scrimmage.

Backup quarterbacks inconsistent.

Diggs throws out first pitch at Orioles game.

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 18, 2013