Maryland linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield needed to be helped off the field in the second quarter Saturday against Georgia Tech, when a cut block at the line of scrimmage felled a ferocious competitor who once got tiger tattoos inked onto his chest because he loved the creature’s silent prowl.
Hartsfield, like quarterback Caleb Rowe the week before, woke up Sunday morning with a swollen knee. He had tweeted shortly after Maryland’s 33-13 loss to the Yellow Jackets that the injury was nothing serious. He figured all was well, until an MRI exam revealed a torn ACL, ending his season and abruptly eliminating one of the Terps’ most valuable defensive weapons just as the team enters its most brutal stretch of the year.
When Coach Randy Edsall saw Hartsfield’s reaction to the news, he put his arm around his senior captain and expressed his sympathies.
“I just feel so bad. I feel bad for any of the guys who get injured, because I see what they put into it to get themselves out on the field, then to play a game they truly love, and to have it taken away,” Edsall said. “But again, that’s part of the way the game’s played. There’s no guarantees.”
Especially not for this tortured bunch of Terrapins, who have endured four season-ending injuries to quarterbacks and now this, a cruel fate for the linebacker who some have called the quarterback of Maryland’s new, rejuvenated 3-4 scheme.
Until Saturday, the season-ending injuries had been curiously localized to Maryland’s quarterbacks, save a preseason knee ailment to defensive linemen Andre Monroe. But the stability of coordinator Brian Stewart’s unit turned the Terps’ defense from one of the nation’s most porous in 2011 into a veteran scheme that utilized an array of disguised blitzes and gap-clogging linemen to consistently rank among the best in the nation.
But Hartsfield’s absence creates a major hole. He will be replaced by L.A. Goree, a sophomore from C.H. Flowers High School who, as a redshirt freshman in 2011, was an honorable mention freshman all-American selection by College Football News after ranking fourth among ACC rookies with five tackles per game. Edsall described him as a “physical” and “downhill” linebacker who was out earlier this season with a neck injury, but rebounded to play the second half in Hartsfield’s stead.
The void extends into leadership. One of Maryland’s four captains who is mild-mannered around reporters, Hartsfield is known for unleashing a hidden a hidden ferocity on the football field. He has a team-high 78 tackles this season, 17 more than second-place Cole Farrand. His seven tackles for a loss rank fourth on the team, as do his 3.5 sacks.
“I know he’s disappointed,” Edsall said. “He was playing really, really well. L.A. needs to step up and play well and fulfill the role that Demetrius had for us on the field. But now we’ve got a void from a leadership standpoint out on the field. We’ve got to have somebody to take that role over, continue to be a leader on the field without Demetrius being there.”
On Monday, Edsall was exiting Gossett Team House when he saw Hartsfield hobbling toward him, walking with a limp. “You’re walking like you’ve got an ACL problem,” Edsall joked. Hartsfield laughed.
“From a spirit standpoint, he’s disappointed, but he’s handling it the best way that he can,” Edsall said. “He understands, ‘Now I have to move on, have surgery, work to give myself another opportunity to play football down the road.’ ”
Back in the training room, right after hearing the results, Hartsfield was stoic, unwavering after the MRI officially ended his season. He turned to Edsall. “Coach,” Hartsfield said, “I just need to know what I have to do now to get better and get healthy.”