Maurice Hampton’s college career has spanned one of the most turbulent periods in Maryland football history.
Hampton, a defensive lineman, and the 14 other seniors who will play their final home game Saturday against Virginia have endured erratic, resurgent and demoralizing seasons. They have seen a head coach-in-waiting depart less than two years after being named and a mostly successful head coach fired after winning his second ACC coach of the year award. That is to say nothing of this year’s turmoil: the 2-6 record, the rash of injuries, the suspensions, fan apathy and resistance by some players to adapt to first-year Coach Randy Edsall’s philosophy.
When asked to sum up his five years at Maryland, Hampton paused five seconds before raising his head to look a reporter in the eye.
“Did you see it coming?” he said. “Did you see any of it coming? When I was recruited here, I didn’t know any of that was going to happen.”
Like Maryland’s other seniors, Hampton came to College Park in part to win an ACC title, a feat the Terrapins accomplished in 2001. They all now prepare to exit the program following experiences distinguished more by team volatility than success.
“It has been wild. It has been crazy,” senior wide receiver Ronnie Tyler said.
“A roller coaster,” said senior long snapper Tim Downs, who rattled off the names of four special teams coaches he has dealt with in five seasons.
From a resounding home victory over a Matt Ryan-led Boston College team in 2007 — when many of the seniors were redshirt freshmen — to the nationally televised, season-opening win over Miami this season, the Terrapins have enjoyed their share of memorable triumphs. But it has been the on-field low points and off-field drama that players say shaped and toughened their character.
“I have definitely seen a lot in my time here,” said defensive back and special teams standout Austin Walker, who later added: “You learn from the experiences you have. You have to be able to handle adversity. You have to be able to handle success.”
There also have been personal bright spots. For Walker, who came to Maryland as a walk-on, it was when then-Coach Ralph Friedgen called him into his office at the beginning of last season and told him he was giving him a scholarship.
“Extremely rewarding,” said Walker, who will graduate in December with a communications degree.
And Downs, a self-deprecating long snapper who says he is merely good at “throwing a ball between my legs,” is grateful to Edsall for rewarding him with a scholarship this summer.
“That put every tackle, every snap, every game-winning field goal behind me,” said Downs, a western Pennsylvania native. “That summed up all the hard work I had put in the last four years. I am very thankful for it.”
The seniors received an introduction to uneven on-field results during a maddening 2008 season, during which a team led by 30 seniors proved capable of winning or losing to any team by almost any margin. The Terrapins beat four ranked teams that season but also lost at Middle Tennessee State and were shut out at Virginia. Despite not starting seven players because of curfew violations, Maryland outran Nevada, 42-35, in the Humanitarian Bowl, which Hampton said was the team’s high point during his career.
“It’s crazy when you know you are better than someone, and you know you are better than what you have been doing all season,” Hampton said. “For some reason, it finally clicks. They just ran through and destroyed. All the things Coach Friedgen was preaching, he didn’t even say much during that game. Everybody just got it. As soon as we get that, I think we’ll be a great team.”
Inexperience, injuries and several narrow defeats conspired to produce the first 10-loss season in Maryland history in 2009. The most eye-opening loss, Downs said, was the season-opening 52-13 defeat at California, whose quicksilver running back Jahvid Best ran over, through and past Maryland’s defense.
“We were stacked with talent,” Downs said of that season. “And we just could not win. And that just really [stunk], it really did. It was not fun. It was not fun to play. Football is a game you are supposed to have fun with, and when you are losing every week it takes a lot out of you. It was like there was a gray cloud over the complex. . . .
“I know we are not going to be 2-10 this year. As far as fun, I love walking down the hill coming here every day. I love putting the jersey on, the helmet on. I love being on that field.”
The Terrapins’ resurgent 2010 season culminated with a 9-4 record and a decisive victory over East Carolina in the Military Bowl. But that month of December brought turmoil and uncertainty with the departure of head-coach-in-waiting James Franklin, who took the Vanderbilt head coaching job, and with the firing of Friedgen, who had 10 mostly successful seasons at his alma mater.
This season has brought more adversity and a slow transition under Edsall. The offense’s fast-paced and exciting performance in the 32-24 win over Miami proved a tease. After the Miami game, Tyler said, the team thought it would win every game this season.
It has won only once since then and will not play in a bowl game unless it wins all four of its remaining games. But Hampton said there remains a redeeming quality to the season.
“When I came [to college], they had an extreme amount of talent, there was talent, but egos, too,” Hampton said. “Five years of me being here, the team’s character has grown from the beginning. You can have all the talent in the world and not go anywhere. This team, I don’t hear anyone talk a lot of junk. No one goes around with their chest out. It’s all about character.”