The starting running back for the Maryland football team had no idea he was the starting running back, at least not until members of the media informed him. Brandon Ross had not peeked at the latest depth chart, released Monday evening. Besides, even if he did, the sophomore would have found no change. He and Albert Reid have been listed as co-starters throughout the offseason. They split repetitions during practice, almost evenly. Nothing suggested otherwise to Ross.
So it wasn’t until he met with reporters on Tuesday that Ross finally learned the news: Minutes earlier, during his first Tuesday news conference of the 2013 season, Coach Randy Edsall had named Ross the team’s starting running back, ending months of speculation with an answer that only seemed right.
“As a tailback, Brandon’s the starter, Albert’s the backup,” Edsall had said. “Albert’s going to play and I’m not afraid to have Albert in the game. We have complete confidence in both of them.”
Certainty comes in short supply for the Terrapins backfield. A true freshman, Reid started the season opener against William & Mary, but by season’s end became the team’s fourth option. Justus Pickett, now at Tennessee, was a serviceable third-down receiver but little more. So the burden fell on Wes Brown, now suspended for violating the university’s student code of conduct, and Ross to carry the load.
Once Brown suffered shoulder and ankle injuries that sidelined him for the final three games last season, Ross stepped into the starting role with a bang. Despite missing three games with a hamstring ailment, the then-redshirt freshman led the team with 390 rushing yards and two 100-yard games against Clemson and North Carolina.
If anything, last season taught Ross that nothing in the backfield is guaranteed. Injuries arrive often and without warning. Struggle for even a series and a teammate creeps closer towards the sideline, ready to take your spot. The starter, really, means nothing.
“You’re only as good as your last performance and your last practice,” he said. “Things are always going to change. I want to be that back who can be in there for a long time. I’ve been really just trying to step my game up, work on my conditioning, make sure I know what I can do on the field, so I can be that consistent back.”
The Terps need consistency from Ross. They ranked 10th in the ACC with 103 rushing yards per game last season, and tumbled through four backs without much stability. Now, with Brown suspended, Pickett transferred, third-stringer Joe Riddle concussed and freshman Jacquille Veii hobbling around with an air cast protecting his ankle, Reid and Ross are the only options left.
“Really it’s just next-man-step-up mentality,” Ross said. “Everybody’s just has to do a little bit more now. Really not a problem. We’ve got guys getting healthy at the right time. We’re going to deal with it. Guys have been able to heal a little bit.”
Probably not enough to bolster Maryland’s depth for Saturday’s season opener against Florida International, but Ross and Reid should suffice, even if the Golden Panthers ranked 36th nationally last year in rushing defense. The Terps have enough offensive weapons at wide receiver to ease Ross’s transition into an every-down role, and Reid can spell him on short-yardage situations, too.
Not that it matters who starts.
“You just go out to practice and listen to the coach,” Ross said. “Whoever he says go out there, we go off that. Really I haven’t even been focusing on the depth chart. Just practicing, going with the flow, doing what I need to do, being the best player I can be.”