Will Likely received two votes for the ACC rookie of the year, which means two reporters deemed him more deserving than the Heisman Trophy winner. Granted, moral dilemmas enter the equation when discussing Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, but Likely’s inclusion was also a testament to a stellar season that played out in College Park.
“No I don’t really be into that,” Likely said, when informed of his vote. “I don’t know … I don’t really be into all that stuff.”
Then he paused and seemed genuinely curious.
“But did I?”
Indeed. Two votes for rookie of the year, which still went to Winston in a landslide, and four votes for defensive rookie of the year, which cornerback and freshman all-American candidate Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech) won. But Likely developed into one of the league’s most dangerous special teams threats, ranking second in the ACC in kickoff returns and fourth in punt returns, while manning the outside after starting cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson suffered injuries.
And now Likely, who might have been a five-star recruit destined for the SEC had he been several inches taller, is headed to the Military Bowl as a silent leader and, inarguably, representative of the Maryland football team’s future.
“No matter when I’m going to go out there, I’ve just got to do me,” Likely said. “That’s what helps me become successful. When they did it, I was just ready. Everything was clicking for me. It wasn’t too fast; it wasn’t too slow. It was like perfect for me, because I’ve been preparing.”
Praise from Coach Randy Edsall has been well-chronicled in these parts, because it seemed to arrive in bunches every week. In February, Edsall predicted the freshman Floridian would have “a tremendous impact.” In September, three weeks into his rookie season, Likely was already playing “like a seasoned veteran.” After his first career interception, against Syracuse, Edsall wished for “100 of them like that.”
And all that came before Likely’s biggest moment of the season, when he fielded a punt on the Maryland 37-yard line at Lane Stadium, juked right, broke several tackles and sprinted into the end zone. The 63-yard punt return energized a once-listless Terrapins team, which eventually beat Virginia Tech and with it gained bowl eligibility.
“I think I had an okay year,” Likely said. “There’s always a lot more room for improvement .I don’t’ think I had the best year I wanted, but I had an okay year. The best part of that is, that lets you know you’re not done yet.
“On defense I could have made more plays on the ball than I did. When it all comes down to it, coach will tell me to keep getting better, and that’s what I’m working on: just getting better.”