COLLEGE PARK — Sal Conaboy is used to being in the middle of controlled chaos, whether it meant growing up as the second youngest of eight siblings near Scranton, Pa., or as the starting center the past two seasons on Maryland's endlessly revolving offensive line.
Now a fifth-year senior, Conaboy is hoping that the way things settled down as he, his three brothers and four sisters grew up occurs for the Terps as they transition from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten. Conaboy saw signs of it last season and then again this preseason.
"It is exciting to know that we have a little bit of depth, some experience," said Conaboy, whose Terps open the season Saturday against James Madison. "These guys are eager to learn. Other guys coming back are pushing themselves. They know there's going to be some competition at camp. That's how you get better.
"We'll see where it goes, but I strongly believe that the core of the team is always the interior line — offensive line, defensive line — and they kind of set the tone for the rest of the team. We do have the makings to do that this year."
Head coach Randy Edsall and new offensive line coach Greg Studrawa are counting on the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Conaboy to provide both power and polish to an offensive line whose two potential stars are a pair of 300-pound freshmen, Damian Prince and Derwin Gray. (They will likely start the season as backups.)
Studrawa said having Conaboy "is like having another coach on the field" and in the film room.
"When something happens, they look to see how Sal is going to react," Studrawa said. "He does a great job of keeping the temperament right for those guys. Whether he misses a block or makes a great block, you're not going to know it. He just moves on to the next play."
Conan Conaboy Sr. said that his second-youngest son always had a way of keeping a level head amid the constant buzz of activity in the family's home in Clarks Summit, Pa.
"I tell his mother, he must have another personality on the field," the father said of Sal. "He was always calm. He always thinks things out, tries to solve the problems."
Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown, who has been Conaboy's teammate for four years and his roommate for three, has seen something of a dual personality between the way Conaboy acts on and off the field.
"He tries to see the best in everyone," Brown said. "He understands how to talk to people. There are some guys he can yell at, some guys he has to talk to. But he does get excited, and when that happens, everyone gets excited because it doesn't happen very often."
It has served Conaboy well, earning him respect from his coaches and teammates and also from those on the outside. Conaboy was named last month among the candidates for the Rimington Trophy, named for former Nebraska center Dave Rimington and given annually to the nation's best center.
"I think he really understands all the things we're doing," Edsall said. "The biggest thing he's got to do is get better with his footwork, work on his technique, his hand placement and continue to work on that. He's made strides with that, but he's got to continue to get better at that."
Dane Brugler, an NFL draft analyst for CBSSports.com, said recently that Conaboy has the potential to be a late-round draft pick next spring, and that he "could help himself with another consistent season."
Dedicated to service
Conaboy is already starting to plot his next move.
Though he hopes to follow former Maryland centers Phil Costa and Kevin Glover to the NFL, Conaboy has also worked on Plan B and maybe even Plan C. After graduating with a degree in criminal justice last December, Conaboy started on his master's in global supply chain management.
Conaboy spent the summer working at the U.S. Marshals Service for its National Capital Area Fugitive Task Force based in Greenbelt. The interest in working in law enforcement was spurred by one of his older brothers, Conan Jr., who is now a police officer in Reno, Nev. Younger brother Richard is serving in the Army.
It goes back to the principles Conan and Theresa Conaboy instilled in their children a long time ago.
Conan Sr. worked for years operating heavy equipment in a local stone quarry before becoming a registered nurse. He also started making regular trips to Haiti to do mission work through the family's church in 2001. It led to the Conaboys adopting a girl, Lexi, now 3, during a cholera epidemic that gripped the country after the devastating earthquake.
"My brothers and sisters were always involved in community service. I just kind of fell into it, and I love it," said Sal Conaboy, who along with his siblings helped build homes in West Virginia for Habitat for Humanity through their church. "It's something that's near to my heart and [I] just continued with it."
That includes Conaboy's involvement with Uplifting Athletes, a national student-run nonprofit organization he has worked for ever since he came to Maryland. After learning under former Terps Justin Gilbert and Andrew Gonnella, Conaboy has takenon a leadership role for Maryland's chapter that he said he will eventually turn over to lineman Andrew Zeller.
Conaboy helped expand the program at Maryland and said he is looking "to get the team more involved" this season.
The main goal for Conaboy this fall is more consistent offensive line play. The one consistency for the Terps the past two years has been Conaboy, who has missed just two games since stepping in late in his redshirt freshman year.
"Consistency is good," Conaboy said. "Guys get familiar out there. Guys learn some tendencies, know what to expect. You're not getting a surprise every snap."
Conaboy said the Terps have grown up because of what they endured in Edsall's first three seasons.
"It's been awesome to see this team grow and to see the young guys become the older guys and step into the leadership roles," said Conaboy, a member of Edsall's players-only leadership council since last season. "The maturity level is immensely different.
"To see these guys grow through the seasons where we had some rough patches and some adversity. We've been through that. We're kind of sick of it now. We're ready to stay healthy. If it doesn't happen, it's football. We'll fight through it again."
Conaboy is looking forward to playing in road environments such as the Big House at Michigan and Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium, saying he "couldn't be more excited." But he says the Terps won't change who they are to compete.
"I keep saying is football's football. We're going to play our game at the end of the day," he said. "It's hard-nosed football no matter what. I always saw that [in the Big Ten]. Now that I'm actually in it, ask me again at the end of the season. It feels the same to me."
Then there's the Nov. 1 game at Penn State, coached by former Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin. Except for his immediately family, most of Conaboy's relatives are fans of the Nittany Lions and several went to the school. His father is a Penn State grad.
"There's definitely some trash-talking going on. Trash-talking with my uncle has been fun," Conaboy said. "People are definitely excited about that game. ... When the day comes, they'll be rooting for me. I hope."
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Matt Zenitz contributed to this article.