CHICAGO — Before DJ Durkin discussed the upcoming season, a brewing quarterback competition and the benefit of recruiting local talent, the Maryland coach squinted into a row of bright lights, held both sides of a glass lectern and addressed what is heavily weighing on his football program as a new campaign nears.
“Good to be here this morning. Good to see everyone. Marks the start of a new season. Great day. Appreciate you being here,” Durkin said to start his opening remarks at Big Ten media days Tuesday. Then he took a deep breath, arched his eyebrows and spoke a little softer than before.
“I’d like for us to talk about the upcoming season, but just take a moment to share some thoughts on Jordan McNair and what he meant to our program, the type of teammate he was,” Durkin continued, referencing the Maryland offensive lineman who died June 13, two weeks after he was hospitalized following an organized team workout. “Obviously the loss of Jordan has been a tremendously difficult thing for our entire program to deal with this summer.”
Durkin stood in front of a couple hundred reporters inside a Marriott conference room in downtown Chicago. Next will come the Terrapins’ first day of training camp at the end of next week, then their season opener against Texas at FedEx Field on Sept. 1, then their home opener two weeks later. All of that, like Tuesday, will carry the sadness and unease of McNair’s death.
Earlier this month, McNair’s family announced that the 19-year-old lineman’s death was caused by heatstroke. They have also hired the law firm that represented the family of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who died in 2015 after being injured while in police custody, and are exploring their legal options. Durkin, who was at the workout with the rest of the Maryland coaching staff, declined to provide further details of that day while Maryland is still participating in an external review.
The external review opened in the third week of June and could last 60 more days, according to a timeline provided by a university spokeswoman when it began. The review is being conducted by Walters Inc., an athletic training consulting firm.
In addition to looking into McNair’s death, the review is evaluating the football program’s procedures and protocols related to “planning and conducting team conditioning and practice sessions; and for responding to health emergencies during or after those sessions.” Durkin said Tuesday that he and Terrapins coaches and players have not yet been interviewed as part of the review but that Walters Inc. has made a list of people with whom to speak. Durkin did say that Maryland has already made adjustments in response to what led to McNair’s hospitalization May 29.
“There’s things that we immediately put into place and looked at,” Durkin said Tuesday. “And then obviously through our external review there will be things long-term-wise that we’ll continue to change and adapt to.”
“Just being more cognizant of all the things we are doing with our guys,” he said when asked what specific changes have been made so far. “Being aware of their hydration levels, being aware of communicating out on the field, all those things we’ve looked at and we made adjustments already with that. We’ll continue to make adjustments.”
Maryland has offered a loose timeline of the day McNair was hospitalized and said the workout was designed and supervised by the team’s strength and conditioning staff. The university has also noted that athletic trainers were present throughout.
The workout began at about 4:15 p.m. with the temperature around 80 degrees, according to the university. An initial 911 call was made at 5:57, according to an incident report written by Prince George’s County medical responders and obtained by The Washington Post through a public records request. That call, made by an unidentified man, indicated that McNair was “hyperventilating,” and the university has said McNair had trouble recovering from a conditioning test consisting of a series of 110-yard sprints.
Medical responders arrived five minutes after the initial call. A second call at 6:07 p.m. indicated that McNair might have been having a seizure, a known symptom of heatstroke. McNair arrived at Washington Adventist Hospital in nearby Takoma Park at 6:36 p.m. and was airlifted to R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore that night. He died 15 days later.
“It’s definitely tough going into camp with what happened to Jordan,” Maryland offensive tackle Derwin Gray said Tuesday. “I don’t really want to get too detailed into what happened and things like that, but Jordan was a great guy. Jordan was a big guy with a big heart, and he loved to smile. He came to work every day, never complained, and I feel like he left a great message to us without even saying it: Hang around your teammates. Smile. Enjoy what you do together.
“And most importantly, whether it’s a coach to a player, or player to player, or coach to coach, just telling each other, ‘I love you.’ Because you never know with this game we’re playing, anything can happen. So that’s what I take from the situation.”
Now the Maryland football team is deciding how to best honor McNair this season, and Durkin said Tuesday that a group of players is leading that discussion.
“Jordan and his family will always be part of what we do,” Durkin said. “We’ve assigned a player committee to head that up and make sure that there’s always a presence. We’re a team playing for Jordan this year. So there will be some things we’ll announce in the coming days as we get into the season of what exactly we’re going to do and how we’re going to handle that.”
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