When Sean Savoy decided to transfer to Maryland, he did so under a condition: He would become a defensive back. To Savoy, that didn’t matter. The former Virginia Tech wide receiver was where he wanted to be, not far from his hometown.
Given the declining health of his mother, who suffered from a rare connective tissue disease and died this winter, Savoy wanted to be nearby. Whether that came as a student, a defensive back or a wide receiver, so be it.
“It really wasn't about playing football,” said Savoy, a Washington native. “It was just that I wanted to be here, be in school, fulfill my dream. If football came, it was a second priority.”
But Maryland Coach Michael Locksley had a role for Savoy, so the junior moved to College Park, joining a talented group of transfers signed to bolster a team that went 5-7 last season. Savoy, who received an NCAA waiver granting immediate eligibility, practiced with the defensive backs all spring before the staff moved him back to his natural position this summer.
The receivers room at Maryland has plenty of depth; that’s why Savoy didn’t start there when he arrived. But throughout preseason camp, Locksley has said he is looking for more out of the position group, which recently lost Jeshaun Jones for the season to injury. There are talented options and Locksley’s system will spread the ball around, but a go-to player has yet to emerge.
Maryland struggled to find rhythm in the passing game last season behind either of its two quarterbacks — Kasim Hill, who is no longer with the team, and Tyrrell Pigrome, who is competing for the job with Josh Jackson, another Virginia Tech transfer. During the run-heavy performances, no receiver on the roster produced flashy statistics; Jones was the leading returner, with 288 yards last season, until he suffered a torn ACL. So the group will hope for more in 2019 with a fresh staff, a different scheme, possibly a new quarterback and a few additions, including Savoy.
“Anytime you get a guy with a history at the position, that’s played the position, that has a want-to to play the position, [can] add more depth to our receiver room and give him the ability to push the top of the room up to a higher level, you want that competition,” offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said the day preseason practice began. “We’re really excited to see where he comes in at.”
Savoy played two seasons at Virginia Tech, starting 12 games as a freshman and finishing the year with 454 receiving yards, 116 rushing yards and six touchdowns. His production declined during his sophomore year, when he only caught 18 passes for 188 yards. With his new team, Savoy will compete for playing time at the slot position, where senior DJ Turner is another player likely to make key contributions. Running backs could also play from that spot; Locksley has said he will prioritize filling the field with talented players, and Maryland has a handful of running backs who fit that mold.
As he learns the offensive scheme, Savoy brings to the field a relationship with Jackson, who could be the starting quarterback when Maryland opens the season Aug. 31 against Howard. When Savoy had his successful freshman campaign with the Hokies, Jackson was the one who threw those passes. And now Savoy benefits from his spring on the other side of the ball, understanding the thought processes of the players who will be defending him.
“I use my weaknesses as a corner and I use them as my offensive strategies,” Savoy said, “trying to find out where to break my routes at, how to time them, how deep I should run them, how fast I should run. Different things how to break them down.”
Initially, adding Savoy to the defensive backs group was a decision based on numbers at each position. With five defensive backs in Locksley’s first signing class, the need for help at that spot lessened. Savoy could still fill a void on defense should the Terps’ secondary be thinned by injuries during the season.
But for now, Savoy will help his new team from the position where he has already had success at the college level. His reaction to the summertime position change was the same as the first: No problem. He is here at Maryland, which was his chief concern from the start.
“I really didn’t care where I played at,” Savoy said of his switch back to offense. “I was just going to go out there and play and just give it my all because [Locksley] gave me an opportunity to come here to another D-I school to be on scholarship and just do something I love.”