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MIT recruit engineered a football scholarship and a starting spot at Maryland

After four years as a walk-on, senior right guard Maurice Shelton (79) finally received a scholarship this summer. (Toni Sandy/Washington Post)

Maryland Coach DJ Durkin held a dinner after running his players through a grueling conditioning test earlier this summer, and afterward he called an impromptu team meeting and made an announcement. He began rattling off the qualities of an unnamed player who had become an exemplary figure during the program’s transition. “Maurice Shelton,” Durkin finally said, “you’re on scholarship.”

The entire room erupted and mobbed Shelton, a fifth-year senior who had been a walk-on the previous four years and relied on an academic scholarship to pay his way in College Park. Shelton eventually walked to the front of the room and shook Durkin’s hand, wearing the infectious smile so many of his teammates have raved about, and then he vowed to keep working. He kept his word. Shelton won the starting job at right guard during fall camp and has impressed during his first two games of his senior season, helping Maryland’s offense score 93 points, the second most through a season’s first two games in program history.

“He may not be our best at any one thing, but he’s good at everything,” Durkin said. “It’s a testament to his work ethic, determination and attitude.”

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Shelton is one of three starters on the offensive line who are former walk-ons, and both left tackle Michael Dunn and left guard Mike Minter went through similar baptisms with their teammates when they won scholarships over the previous two seasons. The scene of Shelton being awarded a scholarship isn’t all that rare — many schools film the surprise announcements and post them on social media every summer — but Shelton isn’t your typical walk-on. He was born in Sasebo, Japan, where his father was stationed in the Navy, and he grew up dreaming of becoming an engineer. After his family relocated to the Washington area, Shelton pursued that dream with vigor at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md., where he became an honors student with a 3.7 grade point average who was also madly intrigued with football.

Shelton has always been massive — by the late stages of his high school career, he was 6 feet 2 and 280-pounds — but he didn’t spark any Division I interest. MIT and Carnegie Mellon called, and Shelton seriously considered both. During his junior year of high school he took an official visit to MIT, where he tried to envision himself as both a scholar and Division III football player at the world-renowned institution.

But Shelton, who also had mild recruiting interest from Delaware, couldn’t let go of the idea of playing football in College Park. He was offered a preferred-walk-on spot by then-coach Randy Edsall and almost immediately accepted, because his academic record was stellar enough to earn an eight-semester scholarship to study electrical engineering. As he handled a rigorous course load, he chipped away on the field. He redshirted in 2012 and was a scout-team member in 2013. He made one appearance in 2014, in mop-up duty in the opener against James Madison, and rode the bench during games the rest of the season. But Shelton was quietly gaining confidence and mass — he grew an inch and gained about 20 pounds by his junior year in 2015 — and he had progressed enough to play in seven games and make two starts during last season’s 3-9 finish. Still, with his academic scholarship running out, he was worried about his walk-on status and how he would pay to chase his goal of being a starting lineman in the Big Ten.

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“I would’ve finished out the fifth year regardless, but there was definitely some concern about what was going to happen in terms of the scholarship,” Shelton said.

But his production during his junior year helped position Shelton well as the new staff came in, and during the offseason he worked on his conditioning and agility to be able to fit in Walt Bell’s up-tempo offense. The system requires much more movement and pacing from the offensive linemen, and its complexities have been condensed into simplified assignments as Bell forms his game plan each week. That has helped with the learning curve, Shelton said, and isn’t all that different from the professors who have helped guide him through difficult courses in electrical engineering. The coursework in both fields has gone hand in hand.

He graduated last spring with a 3.4 grade point average and moved on to a master’s program in real estate development this fall, when he has one more chance to leave his mark on an unlikely college football career. He sometimes wonders what it would have been like to have attended MIT or Carnegie Mellon, where football would have simply been the “icing on the cake.”

“That was always one of the things I thought about. I wasn’t super-heavily recruited out of high school,” Shelton said. “I think I worked for it.”

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