With bowl eligibility at stake for the first time in three years, the Maryland football team enters Saturday’s game at Wake Forest with a defense suddenly gouged by injury, each one more critical than the last.
This week alone, Maryland learned it would be without three outside linebackers against the Demon Deacons: Alex Twine (labrum) will miss Saturday’s game, Matt Robinson (collarbone) will miss three to four weeks and, even worse, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil (torn pectoralis) is out for the season. Add cornerbacks Jeremiah Johnson (fractured toe) and Dexter McDougle (shoulder surgery) to the mix, and the Terps travel to Winston-Salem, N.C., missing two starting cornerbacks, two strong-side linebackers and a backup weak-side linebacker in Cudjoe-Virgil, who ranked second on the team in sacks.
For those healthy players tasked with filling the void, including true freshmen Yannick Ngakoue and Cavon Walker, such injuries strike a unique chord. The Terrapins (5-1, 1-1 ACC) often talk about their “next man-up” mentality, an amnesia of sorts that prevents them from lingering on fallen teammates. But these teammates are also friends, and when friends get hurt, who doesn’t want to help?
“It is very hard,” said Terrapins nose tackle Andre Monroe, who missed all of last season with a knee injury suffered in the summer of 2012. “You look at them as a friend, your brother, then on the other hand you look at it as the next person has to step up. It’s all part of the game. You have to move on, even if you don’t want to.”
Monroe tried to stay positive as he worked his way back from his injury last year, because encouraging his teammates from the sideline was better than sulking alone. Nevertheless, he began to feel isolated.
“It really does mess with your head and your emotions,” Monroe said. “There will be some days where you’ll be like: ‘Man, I don’t want to do anything. I just wish I was out there.’ ”
Since ACC play began and the injuries begain to mount, Maryland’s defense has regressed. Both Florida State and Virginia cleaved defensive coordinator Brian Stewart’s unit for at least 500 yards, and the Terps failed to force a turnover in either game. On Saturday, Maryland will get arguably its biggest coverage challenge yet in Wake Forest senior Michael Campanaro (River Hill High), who leads the ACC in most receiving categories.
“I think it’s like anything else,” Stewart said. “You can’t forget about anybody. . . . Those guys are around. They’re trying to help out. On the field, that’s the only place we’re missing them.”
Maryland Coach Randy Edsall has tried to ensure that the five injured defensive stalwarts — who have 118 combined Division I appearances and 66 starts among them — remain involved with the team. He told his trainers to schedule rehab sessions around practice and meetings, so the injured could be present. All but Cudjoe-Virgil, who underwent surgery on Friday, will travel to Wake Forest, where they will keep the same road roommates and teach from the sidelines.
“I think it’s important for their own psyche to be around the guys,” Edsall said Thursday. “When we travel, they understand the game plan. They almost become extra coaches.”
Johnson and Robinson could return for the second half of Maryland’s ACC schedule, which starts with a home game against Syracuse on Nov. 9. Twine’s status remains in limbo, as he could need surgery on his shoulder if it doesn’t heal sufficiently on its own. Teammates say Cudjoe-Virgil, despite his looming operation, remained upbeat this week, bouncing around practice and trying to lead the team as if he were healthy.
Monroe worried about falling behind as he missed the 2012 season with his knee injury. He sought solace in his father, who struggled through similar anguish with a hernia in college. He asked teammates, those who had been there before, to share their stories, too. They offered strategies to navigate the process, from prepping for surgery to the moment Monroe finally stepped onto the field again as a healthy player.
Now Monroe is doling out similar advice to his injured teammates while also trying to help his healthy defensive brethren forget about what they’re missing.
“I feel like if you’re not able to move on and keep dwelling on, ‘Well, this person’s not here, this person’s not here,’ it’s not going to go anywhere,” he said.