Terps wide receiver Deon Long improving on long road to full health


(Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The double move had left his defender in the dust, and Deon Long saw nothing but green practice field ahead as he hauled in the pass and sprinted toward the end zone. The poor Maryland defensive back tasked with covering the former junior college all-American was a third-stringer, but it didn’t matter to Long. He was back. That’s what mattered.

“Every day I think about it,” Long said later on after Wednesday’s spring practice session was finished. “I think about it every second of the day. It can all be taken away from you in a matter of seconds, so you have to come out here and play every day like it’s your last.”

Nearly six months have passed since Long left BB&T Field in the back of an ambulance during the second quarter on a bloody Saturday in October, pain coursing through his body after breaking his tibia and fibula. His junior season at Maryland was cut short in that game against Wake Forest, and soon his best friend, Stefon Diggs, joined him with a broken leg suffered in the fourth quarter.

Long thinks about that event constantly. He knows the date – Oct. 18 – like his birthday. Soon after surgery, he started looking forward to moments like Wednesday, when he had recovered close to full health (“90 percent back,” he said Wednesday) and could again outrun defenders with his galloping strides.

“It feels good to be out here with my teammates,” he said. “I took a step back to think about the game, be a student of the game, know it’s actually a privilege to be out here and pass that message onto my teammates. Hopefully we can get everything done that we want to get done this season.

“Every day I think about it. I think about it every second of the day. It can all be taken away from you in a matter of seconds, so you have to come out here and play every day like it’s your last. If all my teammates do that, there’s no telling how far we can go.”

Harboring serious NFL aspirations when he joined the Terps, Long finished the 2013 season with 32 catches for 489 yards and one touchdown. On Wednesday, he participated in individual work and seven-on-seven drills, but sat out once team periods came around. The plan, Coach Randy Edsall said, is to keep Long on this level until spring practice ends, so he can return at full strength for the preseason, when he is projected to be one of Maryland’s three starting receivers once again.

By that point, Diggs should also be healthy. The close friends spent the winter together in the training room, finding small things to compete over, like wall sits or balancing contests or games of “who can do the most hack squats?”

“Sometimes it could be good, but with those two, it might not,” Coach Randy Edsall said with a hearty laugh. “No, I think they can push teach other, they’ve gone through the same injury, basically. It’s good that they got people there to work out with. They challenge each other, too, to work a little harder. Not that you want guys to get hurt, but sometimes it’s positive for the people who are hurt that it’s not just themselves, that there’s somebody else there in rehab, because it motivates you.”

Most importantly, though, rehabilitating together helped keep them focused. There were times when both wanted to ditch the crutches and run around, or when they grew frustrated at their inability to do simple tasks, like showering or walking around. When that happened to one, the other was there.

“It was very helpful,” Long said. “On days I was down, he would pick me up. On days he was down, I’d pick him up. But just looking to the left of me and see there’s somebody right there doing the same thing I’m doing, he’s not complaining so how can I complain?”

And so when Long found himself in the end zone, a cornerback left in his dust, there was no complaining whatsoever. Instead, running back Wes Brown jogged over and met Long in midair to celebrate. Long then let out a roar, a battle cry of sorts, as though he had been waiting for this feeling all his life.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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