Freshman cornerback Will Likely, who developed into one of the Maryland football team’s most impressive contributors this season after taking advantage of several injuries above him on the depth chart, received four votes for the ACC defensive rookie of the year and two votes for the ACC rookie of the year.
After cornerback Jeremiah Johnson fractured his toe during the opener against Florida International, ultimately missing 10 regular season games, Likely was elevated into a starting role. He wound up starting 10 of 12 games this season, including nine straight to close the year, consistently earning praise from Coach Randy Edsall during weekly news conferences.
“When you take a look at our team, at our young guys who are playing and getting experience and playing well, Will’s a guy, from the very first day when he came in here, you could see he had something special about him, just in terms of how he went about his business and how he was doing everything,” Edsall said in mid-November, after Likely grabbed his first career interception against Syracuse. “The competitiveness of Will … the thing I like about Will, Will understands that he’s not the tallest guy in the world, and I think he plays with a chip on his shoulder, and he competes his butt off each and every day.”
Likely finished the regular season fifth on the team with 62 tackles, 4.5 of which were for a loss. He also lead Maryland with five pass breakups. The native Floridian’s biggest contribution, though, came in the return game after sophomore Stefon Diggs suffered a season-ending broken leg agaisnt Wake Forest. He ranks second in the ACC in kickoff returns (27-yard average) and fourth in punt returns (12 yards). His 63-yard punt return touchdown against Virginia Tech helped spark a once-stagnant Terps offense that later upset the host Hokies.
Diggs finished second in rookie of the year voting last season to Miami’s Duke Johnson, missing out by 23 votes in the overall standings and 25 votes for the offensive award. This year, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston won both overall honors and offensive rookie of the year in a landslide, but somehow the odds-on Heisman Trophy favorite wasn’t unanimous for either.
Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller received 25 first-place votes for the defensive award, while Duke safety DeVeon Edwards earned 18. Likely ultimately finished tied for fifth in defensive rookie of the year voting, also falling behind Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Facyson (seven votes) and Wake Forest safety Ryan Janvion (five votes). Florida State safety Nate Andrews also received four votes alongside Likely.