Of the Maryland football team’s three early enrollees who met with reporters on National Signing Day last week, the lone freshman drew the smallest crowd. Deon Long had cameras and microphones flock to his seat immediately, drawn toward the aura of the wide receiver who set junior college records. Offensive lineman Silvano Altamirano received a similar-size group that wondered how the California native wound up on the East Coast.
Nearby was Will Likely, sitting upright in his red chair, politely answering questions from the modest bunch that trickled over. Long and Altamirano bring intrigue and experience to College Park. Long will almost certainly become an immediate starter. Altamirano will challenge along the offensive front five. And Likely? Nauseating puns aside – Will Likely will likely do this – the athletic Belle Glade, Fla., native has put himself in prime position to contribute early.
Ranked a three- or four-star athlete by most recruiting services, Likely joins a suddenly deep defensive backfield, which lost one starter – Eric Franklin — from 2012. Figure Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson to start on the outside at cornerback, backed up by Isaac Goins and Alvin Hill. Sean Davis, Matt Robinson, A.J. Hendy and Anthony Nixon should battle for the safety positions. But the 5-foot-7, 171-pound Likely could easily earn time in nickel packages.
“I just do my best, not let a receiver catch any passes,” he said. “That’s all I’m here for. I’m just here to work and get better every day. It was tough but you have to do the best decision for you.”
By far the highlight of Coach Randy Edsall’s National Signing Day news conference was his incredibly detailed story of getting chased while visiting Likely in Florida. Lost among that tale was a mention of Likely’s speed — from the legendary “Muck,” he honed his agility catching rabbits in the swamps — and his potential contributions to the Terrapins.
“He’s a guy who can be a return guy for us, and just glad that we got him,” Edsall said. “Glad that he’s here. He’s going to be a young man who will have a tremendous impact on our team.”
Of course, Maryland already has a national-caliber return man in Stefon Diggs, but depth never hurts. Plus, Likely’s early arrival has given him a leg up on his classmates.
“The transition hasn’t been that bad for me,” he said. “I’m kind of fitting in good with workouts, getting adjusted to the speed, classwork, all those types of things.
“They don’t even treat me like I’m a freshman. I’m just here, working out, doing a little seven-on-sevens, going to class. Those guys, they treat me good. I respect that.”
Likely was originally leaning toward Florida State until defensive coordinator Mark Stoops left for Kentucky, a move that “threw [Likely] off.” Now he joins Maryland, which has just five Florida players on its roster and could have even fewer in the future, given the impending Big Ten move. But he’s become close with his positional teammates, especially the sophomore Hill, a Miami native who moved to Georgia.
“It’s an upcoming program and they’re good,” Likely said. “They just had a rough year because of their injured quarterbacks. They could have had more wins this year. Now we’re looking forward to getting an ACC championship.”
When Likely committed to Maryland on Dec. 22, 2012, he sat on a stage, behind a table filled with hats from LSU, Florida State and Miami. When decision time came, the nation’s 21st-ranked cornerback, according to ESPN.com, reached down and pulled up a Terps pennant, ending the mystery. His reasoning for the switch-up? The package containing his Maryland hat didn’t arrive in time.
“Actually, I got it in my room now,” Likely said. “It’s hanging up. It arrived the next day.”