The recoveries of Stefon Diggs and Deon Long from broken legs have been prominent story lines for Maryland football this spring, but the return of another wide receiver, Marcus Leak, has been even more meaningful, if less acknowledged.
“It’s been a humbling experience, being away from my teammates, seeing a lot of things I was taking for granted,” Leak said. “I think I matured a lot in my time away, but it’s just great being back, being back with my team and moving forward.”
The circumstances surrounding Leak’s abrupt departure from the Terrapins remain a mystery. Last May, Coach Randy Edsall announced Leak had withdrawn from school. It was not related to academics or discipline, a source said at the time, but rather a personal decision. Later, Edsall said Leak needed “to go home for a semester.” The reasons why are unclear. The result is not.
“You see a more mature young man,” Edsall said. “You see a young man that I think now has his priorities in line, so he can be successful in every phase of his life. He understood and learned that there’s certain ways you have to do things in order to be successful. I see a guy who’s adapted well since he’s been back here and a guy that found out a lot about himself and a lot about what life is about.”
Now a rising redshirt junior, Leak spent his semester in Charlotte. He took a math class and foreign language class at South Piedmont Community College, a few minutes from his house, and got no worse than a B in either. He worked out at a nearby high school, with anyone who was willing, but sometimes had to borrow helmets because he didn’t own one himself.
He spoke regularly with Edsall, and soon Edsall began to notice a certain change in Leak’s voice. On Saturdays, he watched the Terps play with family and friends, spying the teammates at his position and critiquing their every move, wishing he was out there too.
“Then when he came up and visited on a number of occasions, I could see a totally, different person,” Edsall said. “What usually happens from that is you find out whether the kid really wants to be part of what you’re doing. You could tell that he wanted to. He knew that he wasn’t doing what he needed to do. We gave him some parameters that he had to meet in order to be back here.
“I told him, ‘If you do the things we asked you to do, you’ll be back here. If you don’t, you won’t be.’ He understands what this program can do for him. He understands the value and the relationships he has with the guys on his team. He wants to make sure he did what he needed to do to be back here, because he enjoys behind here.”
Leak’s absence was magnified by the injuries to Diggs and Long, which would have thrust Leak into the No. 1 receiving role. In 2012, he was the team’s second-leading receiver despite missing two games with a broken toe, catching 23 passes for 393 yards and two touchdowns. This spring, after reenrolling in school, Leak has worked himself back into a starting spot and, barring injury, should keep it heading into the season. He spoke softly when addressing the media for the first time since his return. Another practice had passed with Leak impressing, snaring everything thrown his way, another day when Leak was right where he felt he belonged.
“I feel like I’m light-years more mature than I was in terms of just going hard, knowing this is a team effort,” Leak said. “I feel like you can’t be productive if you have a selfish mind-set. You have to play for each other. I just matured in that sense.”