Growing up in Fulton and starring as a two-way lineman for Reservoir High School, Tim Willman had played plenty of football games in Maryland.
But he had never played a football game against Maryland until Saturday afternoon, when his visiting University of Connecticut Huskies defeated the Terrapins, 24-21.
While the redshirt junior is listed as a second-string defensive end, Willman saw action in Saturday's win, including pressuring Terps QB Perry Hills on a 3rd and 14 play with just over 30 seconds left that resulted in a loss of yardage.
“They ran a little throwback pass but we were ready for it and we stuffed it,” said Willman, who was playing in front of hundreds of Huskies fans who made the trip down south, as well as a large contingent of family and friends. “They gave me good minutes and I did what they asked me to do, so I feel good about it.”
Earlier in the game, the 6'4”, 270-pound Willman occupied two blockers on a play, allowing teammate Yawin Smallwood to force a fumble which was recovered by Angelo Pruitt, setting up a Huskies field goal.
Willman, who plays for a Huskies defense ranked third nationally in total defense and sacks (14), and first in tackles for loss (32), said that he could hear his local fans cheering for him during the game. And while he didn't get anytime to visit with them after the game because the team had a plane to catch, Willman said that it was a thrill to get such a warm homecoming.
“It felt awesome to be in front of all my family and friends, I got to see them at the team hotel last night and I got to see them in the stands,” he said. “I heard the screams, I tried to give them a wave.”
Willman was also able to catch up with Maryland starting strong safety Matt Robinson, a sophomore out of Atholton High School.
“He came up to me after the game and we got to share a couple of words, he's still one of my good buddies, we're good friends,” Willman said.
Robinson had missed 11 games in a row with a shoulder injury, but played in his first game since Sept. 24, 2011, on Saturday, starting at strong safety and recording six tackles.
“Having Matt out there and the experience that he has is only going to benefit us,” Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said in a press conference last Tuesday. “He is a guy who grasps things very easily and he is also a leader out there for us. He is somebody who has the physical capabilities to play in the passing game but also play in the running game. He is a hard worker, he is conscientious, he wants to do things right all the time, and he wants to win. When you take all of that off the field, you have a void ... He's eager, he's hungry, and he's ready to go, so let's just hope that he is healthy through the rest of the season.”
Edsall was the head coach at UConn from 1999 until coming to Maryland in 2011.
While Willman has been stuck behind preseason Bednarik Award candidate Trevardo Williams (19 career sacks) this season, his playing time could increase in a hurry. Jesse Joseph, the team’s starting defensive end opposite Williams, tore his Achille’s tendon in Saturday’s game and was lost for the season.
Willman is one of the top candidates to replace Joseph, head coach Paul Pasqualoni told ESPN.com, and he has big goals for his final two seasons as a Huskie.
“Just keep playing my role, giving them what they want, obviously rack up (tackles for loss) and sacks, and hopefully make it to a BCS Bowl,” Willman said.
Fans of Howard County football who missed Willman’s visit to Byrd Stadium will get another chance to see local stars come home when Wake Forest plays at Maryland on Saturday, Oct. 6.
Demon Deacons redshirt junior receiver Michael Campanaro (River Hill ’09) has 24 catches coming into this week, tied for tenth best in the nation. And Kevin Johnson — a redshirt sophomore cornerback out of River Hill — is second on the team with 19 total tackles through three games, and has an interception.