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A Maryland student attended an event for free food. He left with a job on the football staff.

Maryland student Ryan Sartori, an offensive assistant for the football team, stands by the field at Maryland Stadium. (Emily Giambalvo/The Washington Post)
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On a Thursday evening in August, Maryland sophomore Ryan Sartori trekked to the student union for reasons that would pull college students to any event on campus. Free food — crab cakes, pizza and ice cream — awaited students inside the ballroom, along with T-shirts and other prizes meant to encourage participation.

Sartori loves sports, and the event offered students a chance to ask Terrapins Coach Michael Locksley and Athletic Director Damon Evans questions. Sartori had met Evans before and thought this would be a good chance to say hello again.

So Sartori attended with his girlfriend. Two days before the Terrapins opened their season against Howard, he ate the free food and asked Locksley a question about the new Maryland offense. And thanks to that interaction, Sartori now has a smart TV in his room and a role as an offensive assistant on the football staff.

It was one of those happenstances in which everything worked out in a smooth and surprising way. A prize wheel incentivized students to participate, so Sartori asked about run-pass option plays, referencing Maryland’s new quarterback, Josh Jackson, and Locksley’s previous system at Alabama. In a town hall-style setup, Sartori sat just a couple of steps from one of the microphones, so he delivered the first question of the night before spinning the wheel and winning the TV.

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Sartori seemed to understand football well, and Maryland wanted to fill volunteer student roles, so Locksley’s executive assistant, Abir Chaudhry, asked the 19-year-old whether he would be interested.

“There were even a couple friends who I asked if they want to go with me, and they’re like, ‘No, I’m good,’ ” Sartori said. “I come back carrying a TV, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I got a job with the team.’ And they’re bummed out that they didn’t tag along.”

In a group chat, Sartori excitedly texted his parents, gradually revealing new information in each message. He sent a photo of the event flier first. Then he wrote, “Just went to this event.” Next text: “Wanted to say hi to Damon and get free pizza and t shirt.”

The messages kept coming. Sartori mentioned his question, the prize wheel and the free TV. He explained that Chaudhry mentioned the student position and that he had given her his phone number. Then he showed images of texts from Chaudhry explaining the next steps.

“Are you freaking kidding me!” Sartori’s dad, Lou, responded once his son had finally finished describing how this all unfolded.

A few days later, Sartori stopped by the football facility to meet with the staff. In what is known as the offensive war room, Sartori introduced himself to coordinator Scottie Montgomery and other position coaches.

Montgomery told the New Jersey native to grab a dry-erase marker. A staffer in the room wore a shirt with the state of Maryland pictured, so Montgomery instructed Sartori to draw that on the whiteboard. Then he asked him to draw an outline of New Jersey from memory.

Perhaps the coaches wanted to see how neatly Sartori could copy drawings because part of his job involves digitally replicating their ideas for plays. Or maybe they also wanted to “mess with me a little bit,” Sartori said. Either way, Sartori met their standards.

Sartori, who played high school baseball and church-league basketball, grew up rooting for the Giants, Knicks and Yankees. He spent hours each Saturday and Sunday watching — and learning about — football. Now he’s one of a handful of student assistants on Maryland’s staff and works a few hours each Tuesday and Thursday morning. Sartori helps cut film, copy plays and format weekly scouting reports.

As a finance major who interned with a European bank in New York this summer, Sartori had never considered a career in sports. His dream job, he admits, is to be the general manager of the Giants, but that is similar to so many kids. Sartori thinks he might one day work in investment banking.

But Sartori realized how his career could still involve sports thanks to a different but similarly fortuitous experience at a Maryland event. When he attended the Terps’ basketball game against Michigan last season, he arrived early to learn the flash mob dance. Evans was there and joined in with the student section, choosing the seat next to Sartori’s. Evans then asked about his major and career goals.

Evans majored in finance at Georgia, where he played football, so he told Sartori to come by his office to talk sometime. When they met, Evans mentioned business careers related to sports. Sartori later visited Evans again for a class assignment that required students to interview a professional in a field in which they had interest.

“It’s not necessarily that he’s in the right place at the right time,” Lou Sartori said, “but he’s not hesitant to introduce himself or to talk to folks.”

Lou Sartori later assured his wife that working in an athletic department would indeed help prepare their son for a business career, even one outside sports. Inside a football program, there are plenty of decisions, strategies and people to manage. Sartori now has a front-row seat to it all.

Because Maryland played Penn State on a Friday, Sartori was present for the day-before preparation while the staff ran through the game plan.

“It just kind of felt like I was in-the-know more,” said Sartori, who watches games from the stands. “Even if it didn’t always work out, I kind of knew what was coming, and that was definitely an awesome feeling.”

Lou Sartori remembers a time when he had some friends over to watch a Giants game back when his son was about 8. After a goal-line play, the younger Sartori explained why he thought they should have run something different. Impressed by the kid’s understanding of the game, a friend of Lou’s asked: “Is this for real?”

That’s the aspect of the game Sartori enjoys thinking about — why certain plays worked and why others didn’t. Lou Sartori said his son has always asked questions, whether about football or anything else. That’s how he learned the game. And years later, that’s all it took for him to land a role on the Maryland staff.

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