By Jeff Barker
The Baltimore Sun
7:16 PM EDT, October 31, 2012
COLLEGE PARK — In March 2010, the boy's basketball coach at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George's County found himself suddenly shorthanded in double-overtime of a playoff game against Wise.
His frontcourt thinned by injuries and foul trouble, coach Brendan O'Connell turned to a bulky sophomore backup — Shawn Petty — who had played little during the regular season.
"I think most sophomores would have just panicked," O'Connell said.
But what struck O'Connell is how unfazed Petty seemed. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound player scored several key baskets and Roosevelt won by two points.
Two-and-a-half years later, the Maryland football team is desperately hoping that Petty can once again embrace a big moment.
This time, the stakes are higher. After having four quarterbacks suffer season-ending injuries, Maryland has turned to the freshman linebacker to not only play in a college game for the first time on Saturday against Georgia Tech, but to switch positions and lead the team at quarterback.
Petty — a linebacker and option quarterback at Roosevelt, where he played basketball as a secondary sport — has a unique opportunity to orchestrate a turnaround story for himself and the depleted Terps, who have lost two games in a row.
Petty does not appear on the two-deep depth chart at linebacker. If not for Maryland's quarterback emergency, Petty — who will keep his No. 31 for Saturday's game — would almost certainly have remained on the scout team for the rest of the season.
"I think the coolest thing is I was blocking this guy two weeks ago on the scout team," center Evan Mulrooney said. "He was coming downhill trying to kill me ... and now he's taking snaps from me."
Coaches began examining the roster for potential quarterback replacements after freshman starter Perry Hills (torn anterior cruciate ligament) and redshirt sophomore Devin Burns (Lisfranc foot injury) were injured in a loss to North Carolina State on Oct. 20.
Players, too, began asking each other who had played the position in high school.
"I know [senior] Kevin Dorsey played quarterback in high school, but we need him at receiver," fellow receiver Nigel King said.
Fans arriving early for last Saturday's game at Boston College saw a linebacker wearing No. 31 and a tight end wearing No. 87 taking practice snaps at quarterback in the end zone. That's where injuries had left Maryland — with Petty and freshman Brian McMahon as emergency backups.
Petty became this week's starter when tests confirmed Sunday that Caleb Rowe had suffered a torn ACL trying to scramble out of bounds in Boston College's 20-17 victory.
Petty, 19, was chosen because he had 1,300 yards passing and 15 touchdowns in his senior season at Roosevelt. Coaches also thought he had the right sort of personality — he is described as laid-back — to handle the pressure of being elevated to starter so quickly.
"I'm not a loud or talkative person. A lot of people see me as outgoing, but I'm not really talkative," Petty said after committing to the Terps. The school said Petty's class schedule did not permit him to be interviewed on Wednesday.
Said O'Connell, who plans to attend Saturday's game: "He'll be as fine as anybody can be who's got two weeks to play the position. He's not going to be rattled by the moment [but] I would surely expect a learning curve there."
Maryland (4-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) needs two wins in its last four games to become bowl eligible.
Petty has personal motivation for wanting to succeed, too. While he was pleased to be recruited by Maryland as a linebacker, he still hoped to be a quarterback again one day.
"I think he really feels he's a quarterback at heart," said Maryland coach Randy Edsall, who noted that he is committed to Petty and did not plan to give him a quick hook. "The biggest thing is terminology. It's just getting the numbers down … the reads."
Said offensive coordinator Mike Locksley: "Shawn grew up a quarterback, as Brian [McMahon] did. It's like riding a bike a little bit, in that you don't forget some of the leadership intangibles."
Petty's specialty is the run option.
"We ran a Navy-style option [in high school], but he did pass," said Tom Green, Roosevelt's football coach. "We were probably a 60-40 run-pass [ratio]."
Green said he asked Locksley months ago whether he might be interested in trying Petty at quarterback. "They didn't feel comfortable then, but I guess due to injuries they have to give someone else another opportunity," Green said.
When it came to choosing a college, Petty — whose father is the defensive coordinator at Howard — essentially agreed to a tradeoff. He gave up the idea of playing quarterback at a smaller school so he could attend Maryland.
"I know Maryland was his dream school," Green said. "We had a long talk about it. We decided if he had an opportunity to go to Maryland, he'd do it."
At least for now, Petty not only gets to play for the Terps — he also gets to return to his favorite position.
"He wants to prove he can play quarterback at this level, even though we recruited him to be a linebacker," Locksley said. "I love that, because now I know he's going to put everything into being prepared and put everything to going out an executing. You can work a guy that wants to."
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