There were opulent chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, 11 decorated Christmas trees in the lobby, cowbells clanging from fans and an archway of red, yellow and black balloons welcoming the Maryland football team to the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington D.C.
“It’s unbelievable,” quarterback C.J. Brown said, minutes after the buses pulled up along 17th Street and unloaded the bags, players and coaching staff. “And we’ve only been in the lobby. If this is the lobby, I don’t even know. We just showed up.”
“Never been in anything like it,” running back Albert Reid said. “It’s just a blessing to be here.”
After practice on Monday morning beneath the pouring rain in College Park, the week of festivities leading into Friday’s Military Bowl against Marshall officially began for the Terrapins. The hotel hosted a welcome reception when the team arrived, and everyone will take tours of the U.S. Capitol and the monuments along the Mall. Community service events and a hypnotist show are also scheduled.
“There’s no question, that’s what a bowl is, it’s a reward for what the kids accomplished during the regular season, but also you still have a game to play, and you want to go out and win the game,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “You want to go out and work hard and prepare. Our guys have done that. I think they’ve had fun with the things we’ve done. We were able to get the work done that we’ve needed to get done, but also be cognizant of the fact that we had finals to get through. We still had to recruit and do all those things. I’m pleased with where we are as we work here today.”
With a 7-5 record, Maryland surpassed its combined win total during Edsall’s first two seasons and enters the week healthy, he said. Wide receiver DeAndre Lane returned to the latest depth chart after enduring a hamstring issue, and cornerback Jeremiah Johnson, despite “a little bit of a nick going right now” suffered during practice, remains on track to return to full action versus the Thundering Herd. The once-starting cornerback has battled a fractured toe since the opener against Florida International.
“We’re in pretty good shape,” Edsall said. “We really are. Our kids have worked hard, they’ve had fun, they’ve been preparing. I’m pleased with where we’re at right now. Hopefully in the next two days we can have two really good days here enjoying all the festivities. We’re looking forward to it.”
Injured wide receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs also remain on track for their recoveries. In mid-October, when they each suffered a broken leg against Wake Forest, Long faced a six-month rehabilitation while Diggs’ was pegged at four months. When the Terps entered the hotel, however, Diggs was still on crutches while Long was in sneakers.
“He’s been through the crutch phase where he can get rid of those and now we’re getting to the phase where we’ll start to wean him out of the boot,” Edsall said of Long. “Stefon still has some time on the crutches, then the same thing will happen to him. Their rehab’s coming along good. They’re on progress right now to whatever everybody thinks they should be.”
With finals over – Edsall said grades are in good shape, with tight ends P.J. Gallo and Brian McMahon reporting 4.0 grade-point averages – there’s nothing left to do but practice and focus on Marshall. The Thundering Herd finished their regular season 9-4 and 7-1 in Conference USA. Quarterback Rakeem Cato (3,579 passing yards and 36 touchdowns) leads an offense ranked seventh nationally in points (43.0 per game), 21st in pass yards (291.2) and 22nd in rushing yards (211.2).
“Getting here means a lot,” Brown said. “But you play to win the game and that’s what we’re here to do, no matter who we’re going to go up against. We’ve got a tough test in Marshall.”