The text messages have flooded Andrew Isaacs’s cellphone. He struggles to keep up.
Are you playing this week?
When the Maryland football team visits Connecticut this weekend at Rentschler Field, 10 minutes from the tight end’s hometown of Manchester, Issacs knows his family and friends will dot the stands. He just doesn’t know how many.
“I know it’ll be quite a bit,” he said.
When Issacs was 6 years old, his mother passed away. When he was 12, his father died, too. So he moved in with his aunt and cousins in Manchester, where he soon blossomed into the state’s top-ranked high school football player for the class of 2013. They’ve been his support system for nearly half his life, and he can’t wait to return home to see them. “My family’s proud of me,” he said, “so that’s all that matters.”
Isaacs may play sparingly on Saturday evening. The freshman may not play at all. Maryland currently uses him as its backup or third tight end, depending on the situation. He plays on special teams and goal-line packages. He’s still transitioning from high school to college, adapting new study habits, adjusting to stronger and faster competition.
But given the way Coach Randy Edsall and his staff talks about Isaacs, he just may be the team’s tight end of the future.
“I think I’m still going through that typical freshman stuff,” Isaacs said Wednesday. “Some of it is easier now because we’re farther along in the season.
“My goal is to keep getting better so I can play more. Right now I’m not getting a ton of playing time. I’m just trying to prepare myself best to play.”
Senior Dave Stinebaugh has started both games at tight end, and he’ll remain the first-stringer so long as he remains healthy. After that, the situation gets dicey. Redshirt freshman P.J. Gallo backs up Stinebaugh, and Isaacs is third. Gallo was among Maryland’s best scout team players last season, but both he and Isaacs have the same amount of live experience: two games. The Terps rarely run two tight-end packages except in red-zone scenarios, so Isaacs knows there’s still work to do.
“There’s definitely an opportunity,” he said. “It’s whoever prepares better and works harder. I’m rooting for everybody. When my teammates are on the field, I want them to be successful. But at the end of the day we’re competitive, we want to play. I’m trying to prepare myself the best I can.”
That’s why his homecoming is less sentimental and more professional. Growing up, Isaacs loved Connecticut when Edsall coached there. He loved the facilities and regularly attended practice. But as he grew older his preferences shifted south. He committed to Maryland last August over offers from Boston College, Rutgers and the Huskies. He returns not as a prodigal son, but an opponent, on his first college road trip, seeking victory.
“I’m sure my aunt will come by [the team hotel],” Isaacs said. “Honestly, I don’t want to say I don’t want to see everyone else, but I don’t need that distraction of having a thousand and one friends coming to the hotel. I want to see my aunt and my family and stuff. I’m there for a business trip. I’m not going home.”
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