Things keep getting better and better for University of Maryland senior Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil.
Two years ago, he made the Terrapins as a walk-on after transferring from tiny Division II Seton Hill University, outside of Pittsburgh.
Then, the Towson High graduate earned a scholarship at Maryland.
Last year, Cudjoe-Virgil emerged as a valuable reserve on the team's defense, registering three sacks, 18.5 tackles, including 3.5 for loss in six games.
Now, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Cudjoe-Virgil is projected as a starter at outside linebacker and by the end of the year, he could be in the running for the Butkus Award, which is given annually to college football's top linebacker.
Cudjoe-Virgil is already on the Butkus watch list, which includes 50 other players.
"I am expecting a big year from Cudjoe," Maryland outside linebackers coach Lyndon Johnson said. "He is having a great camp. He has stepped right into where he left off last year. He is playing at such a faster pace than last year. He understands what is happening around him. He is a big, strong and fast player who really understands our defense."
Considering where Cudjoe-Virgil originally played, the impact he made was not only welcomed, but unexpected.
"It's a rarity," Johnson said of Cudjoe-Virgil's success after switching schools. "The style of play is faster and the guys are bigger and stronger. When he first walked into the locker room, he had the body type. He had all the tools. But his work ethic. You never know. You can't measure that. He has exceeded my expectations."
Cudjoe-Virgil, who immigrated with his mother Marilyn about 10 years ago from Trinidad, said he's always had an underdog mentality.
"I just had that walk-on mentality everywhere I go," he explained. "I always had to prove myself everywhere I went. I knew I had to work harder than the other guys just being at the bottom and being a walk-on. I just took my own work ethic and pushed harder. It kept working."
Cudjoe-Virgil is even more eager for a stellar 2014 season during Maryland's first year in the Big Ten after missing six games because of a torn pectoral muscle last year.
And he understands he may not play football beyond this season.
"I really worked in rehab coming back," he said. "This is my last season so I am just going to give it my all. I think the injury was a blessing in disguise. My eyes were opened up. I got a chance to stand on the sidelines. I saw the little things that really make you great at this game."
Cudjoe-Virgil also has taken a step forward off-the field, being named to the team's leadership council.
"Cudjoe does everything the right way, on and off the football field," Johnson said. "It's easy for him to be a leader because that's the way he is naturally. You can see that level of maturity in him as far as how he goes out of his way to help the younger guys learn."
Cudjoe is one of four players on Maryland with Towson-area ties.
All three are reserves, including redshirt freshman quarterback and Anneslie resident Shane Cockerille (Gilman School), sophomore defensive tackle Azubuike Ukandu (Towson High) and freshman linebacker and Towson resident Matt Gillespie (Loyola Blakefield).
Cudjoe-Virgil played for two years with Ukandu at Towson High.
"I was really excited to play with him again," Cudjoe-Virgil said. "We have been really close since he came to Towson his freshman year. The relationship just carried on here."
Cockerille is competing for the third-string quarterback position with Perry Hills, a redshirt sophomore from Central Catholic High in Pittsburgh.
"I think I have grown from last year to this year," Cockerille said. "I'm learning how to read defenses better. Coming in as a true freshman, it was tough to get everything down mentally. The mental aspect of the game is a lot to handle at quarterback."