Last season, injuries forced the Maryland football team to elevate a 17-year-old freshman named Mike Madaras to starting left tackle, tasking the rookie with protecting the quarterback’s blindside. He finished the season strong and, the program hoped, could anchor the offensive line for years to come.
But last week, Maryland encountered a similar scenario when Madaras abruptly left the program for personal reasons. With him, he took 12 straight starts, an experience level no other Maryland left tackle had. And so once again Coach Randy Edsall turned to a true freshman for the answer. Moise Larose hastily moved from the right side to the left and will make his first career start Saturday against Syracuse.
“It came out of nowhere, honestly, but I feel like at this point in time I felt like I was ready to step up and take one for the team,” he said Wednesday.
A bye week afforded Larose a welcome adjustment period, far better than had Madaras departed during regular game preparation. He played left tackle at Wilde Lake High School after becoming an all-state offensive lineman at his previous school, Meade. But familiarity and comfort are two different things, and Larose had little time to re-acclimate himself to the old spot.
“It’s been a big adjustment,” he said. “Your footwork, your landmarks, your hand placements, your kickback, all of that. It’s a big difference, switching your feet to a new position. You’re familiar with it, but you’re not used to it.”
Still, Larose proved enough to Maryland’s coaching staff during preseason camp to earn a second-team spot at right tackle. He has appeared in all eight games this season, entirely in reserve roles but, as offensive coordinator Mike Locksley noted, the switch could be much worse. Second-teamers still take 40 percent of snaps during practice.
“It’s not like taking a guy like Shawn Petty who was playing linebacker for us and moving him to quarterback where there weren’t any reps whatsoever,” Locksley said, referring to last season. “[Larose is] a guy that’s been involved in the game plan and throughout the course of the past eight, nine weeks.”
The future, however, presents something entirely different to Larose, who originally committed to Rutgers but later switched to Maryland. After all, with starting quarterback C.J. Brown returning from yet another injury – over his career, he has broken his collarbone, torn his ACL, suffered a concussion and missed time with a trunk injury – Larose knows it is now his job to ensure Brown remains upright. A sixth win and bowl eligibility might hinge on it.
“Now I’ve got to really grow up and make sure I’ve got my job done,” he said. “C.J.’s got hurt for a couple years, so I have to make sure he’s not touched.”
Against a Syracuse defense that, like Maryland’s, relies on constant pressure to penetrate opposing backfields, Locksley anticipates the Orange possibly keying on Larose, singling out the true freshman and bombarding him accordingly.
To counter that, the Terps will throw help to Larose’s side, avoiding the one-on-one situations that might strand him into an uncomfortable position. In other words, Maryland needs to protect the protector.
“I’m sure that in their mind, that’s maybe something they look at,” Locksley said. “But again, we can’t worry or concern ourselves with how they want to attack Moise. We have to put together a plan that protects Moises and allows him to do the things he does well. For us to sit back and put him a bunch of one-on-one situations where he’s got to execute without help or without doing things to help him as a first-time starter for us wouldn’t be smart on our part. So as much as they’ll try to do things to attack him, we’ll do things that fit what we want and what we need to do to protect him.
“He’s the next guy and nobody really gives a crap that he’s a true freshman.”