This weekend, Jeremiah Johnson will miss another game, his ninth straight since the junior cornerback fractured his toe, and the recovery continues to stretch far beyond its initial timetable. The Maryland football team plans to welcome Johnson back whenever doctors clear him, for even just one game if it comes to it, because after redshirting his freshman season, he won’t be granted another one this year because of the injury.
Johnson’s return would undoubtedly boost a slim Terps’ secondary, but his replacement continues to ride business class on the coaching staff’s praise train. Freshman Will Likely has been upheld all season as the paragon of Coach Randy Edsall’s desired work ethic. His 27.4 yards per kickoff return is third in the ACC. He ranks fifth on the team in tackles (43), fifth in tackles for a loss (4.0), first in pass breakups (four) and first, by a wide margin, in glowing praise.
“I wish I had 100 of them like that,” Edsall said Tuesday. “He’s a tremendous young man and has made a big impact on this team, not only from what he’s done on the field but how hard he prepares and he works at it.”
Last Saturday, Likely snagged his first career interception by jumping a crossing route in the second quarter. The takeaway helped reverse quarterback C.J. Brown’s turnover minutes earlier, until he threw another interception and Likely and his teammates rushed back onto the field. “We just have to try and make plays to help the offense,” Likely said later.
As the Terrapins plod forward, still thinned by injury yet grasping for the postseason, Likely doesn’t serve as a particularly vocal presence in the locker room but holds plenty of clout for his game play this season.
“When you take a look at our team, at our young guys who are playing and getting experience and playing well, Will’s a guy, from the very first day when he came in here, you could see he had something special about him, just in terms of how he went about his business and how he was doing everything,” Edsall said. “The competitiveness of Will… the thing I like about Will, Will understands that he’s not the tallest guy in the world, and I think he plays with a chip on his shoulder, and he competes his butt off each and every day.
“He’s a smart football player, he works extremely hard at getting better. Never satisfied. Tough guy. I could talk all day about him.”
And then he did.
“He epitomizes everything that you want in a football player,” Edsall continued. “We go on Thursdays, and he’s so competitive, he doesn’t want anybody catching the ball against him, and sometimes he’s taking the receivers down. You’ve got to say, ‘Hey Will, it’s Thursday now.’ But that’s the kind of kid he is.”
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