Linebacker-turned-quarterback-turned-linebacker. The phrase will likely precede all mentions of Shawn Petty until his Maryland football career ends. He was supposed to spend his freshman season on the scout team, learning the defense during practice and wearing sweatpants during games. But nothing happened according to script, and Petty’s improbable position switch became a symbol for everything that plagued the Terrapins in 2012.
Projected starter C.J. Brown tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the preseason. Then backups Perry Hills, Devin Burns and Caleb Rowe suffered their own season-ending injuries. So in stepped Petty, a two-way player at Eleanor Roosevelt (Md.) High but recruited as a linebacker for a reason. He burned his redshirt year to start the season’s final four games at quarterback, all the while sporting the unsightly No. 31.
“What Shawn Petty did last year was nothing short of remarkable,” Coach Randy Edsall said.
Petty will in all probability end his college career winless as quarterback, 0-4 in those starts, but he is immensely proud of his accomplishments. Pictures of Petty cocking to pass, or tucking and running, once littered his Instagram and Twitter accounts. They are not only reminders of a month-long period of absurdity, but an indication of what he can achieve.
“Of course, it’s always going to be something I’m going to remember,” Petty said. “It’s a great experience, like I said. I’m always going to remember. It’s something that’s going to stay on my mind. It’s a story I can tell.
“I probably feel like there’s always going to be something that’s said. But I do plan on accomplishing a lot of things at linebacker. Something’s always going to be said or brought back to, but my accomplishments at linebacker, I hope will overshadow that.”
Last season, injuries cast Petty atop the quarterback depth chart by default, one spot above tight end Brian McMahon, but returning to defense this season means he must work his way up again. He ranks third on Maryland’s depth chart, behind Cole Farrand and Bradley Johnson at the “Mike” linebacker position. He still has never made a tackle in a college game, or even played a college snap on defense.
But lately, Petty has begun posting different images on social media, shots and video of him doing to Maryland’s quarterbacks during practice what Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina defenders did to him for four weeks: sacking, intercepting and overwhelming. According to Petty, the transition back did not take long.
“It was real quick,” he said. “Right when it started, I was already back in the mentality of linebacker. Then the experience really helped me at linebacker, seeing the different things, learning the different things at quarterback.”
This, in theory, gives Petty an advantage. His quarterbacking statistics — 500 yards, six touchdowns, 46.4 completion percentage, two interceptions — won’t build a legacy, but the experience helped construct an unusual perspective on the enemy’s side. Edsall can relate: When he began coaching, in 1980 as a graduate assistant under Frank Maloney at Syracuse, he was a former quarterback who moved to defense.
“That’s going to help Shawn, because he knows those things about offense, all the little things you need to know about what goes on,” Edsall said. “I think it is beneficial. When there’s guys who play one side then move to play the other, they understand how to attack and different things. I think it will help him. It’ll give him more feel about the little things going on.”
And who knows, maybe years down the road, when Maryland football fans reminisce about seasons passed, they will remember not just Shawn Petty the quarterback, but the linebacker he became, too.
“You have to do what you have to do,” Petty said. “I had to step in. It’s what people will say. I knew what I had to do.”