COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien, who endured a trying season in which he lost his starting job and broke his arm, was granted his release from the program Monday after declaring he needs “a fresh start.”
Offensive lineman Max Garcia and linebacker Mario Rowson also are transferring. Garcia, a sophomore who started all 12 games at tackle, had been a top recruit of former coach Ralph Friedgen. The other starting tackle, R.J. Dill, transferred to Rutgers. Rowson, a redshirt freshman, started four games.
Maryland’s difficult day came days after Terps’fans rejoiced over the announcement that Good Counsel wide receiver Stefon Diggs, Maryland's biggest recruiting success story in years, was coming to College Park.
O’Brien had been a team leader and passed for 4,086 yards in two seasons. His departure means that the fleet C.J. Brown — who had mixed success passing in his first full season but rushed for 647 yards — will be the quarterback starter.
“It's time to start the C.J. Brown era at Maryland,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said . “I feel good about C.J. Brown.”
After Brown, the Terps will have a pair of first-year players —Caleb Rowe from Greer, S.C., and Perry Hills from Pittsburgh. The team is likely to add a fourth quarterback before the season.
Maryland fans had waited to see whether O’Brien — the former Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year who once adorned Terps’ promotional literature — might be influenced to stay once Diggs revealed his decision. Edsall said Monday that Diggs, who also plays defensive back, will be a receiver and probably a kick returner for the Terps.
O’Brien, who played two seasons and redshirted his freshman year, met with Edsall on Wednesday . O’Brien, who is from Kernersville, N.C., was leaning toward departing but agreed not to make a final decision until Monday. O’Brien’s mother and stepfather came to College Park to be with him as he made his decision.
Those close to O’Brien said Wisconsin, Stanford and Vanderbilt could be among his transfer options. It's not known whether those schools are interested.
His release excludes Vanderbilt, meaning that's not an option. It also excludes upcoming ACC opponents as well as upcoming nonconference opponents such as West Virginia and Temple. Maryland, which was 2-10 last year, opens the season against William & Mary on Sept. 1.
Garcia and Rowson received releases with similar provisions. Such restrictions are common in Division I releases.
O'Brien has remained close with former Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin, now Vanderbilt's head coach. Maryland officials believe Franklin may have been in contact with O'Brien while the quarterback made his decision.
Under NCAA rules, a school can limit a rival program from having contact with a player. It could not be determined by The Baltimore Sun whether Franklin and O'Brien made contact. Franklin could not be reached for comment.
O’Brien remained stoic during the season even after his string of 15 consecutive starts was snapped when Brown started against Clemson and ran for 162 yards in a 56-45 Maryland loss. The closest O’Brien came to complaining was acknowledging that he faced an adjustment in switching from 2010’s West Coast Offense to 2011’s spread offense in which the quarterback is expected to occasionally take off on option runs.
Edsall said he was “taken aback on Wednesday when Danny came in and talked to me because it was totally unexpected. I told him to take a few days and think it through.”
O'Brien finalized his decision on Monday morning. “He told me he wanted a fresh start,” Edsall said.
Edsall said in a news release: “Danny told me that he’s not committed to our program, that he’s not ‘all in.’ I want what’s best for all of our players. Danny wants a fresh start elsewhere. I wish him well.”
O'Brien's 2011 statistics -- a 56.4 completion percentage, seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions -- paled compared to the season before. After regaining the starting job, he broke his left arm in a loss to Notre Dame in November and would have been limited in spring practices.
O’Brien’s family was considering releasing a statement explaining his decision, but it had not yet been issued Monday night.
A dozen players with eligibility have left Maryland since the season ended. Another dozen with remaining eligibility left before the season, which was Edsall's first at the school.
O'Brien has said he is on track to graduate in the spring and could enroll in a graduate program at another school and play right away. He has two seasons of eligibility left.
As for Garcia and Rowson, each player had different reasons for moving on, Edsall said.
“Max showed great promise. But after two seasons in College Park, Max is still homesick,” Edsall said. “He wants to transfer to a school closer to home (Norcross, Ga.) so his family can see him play.”
The coach said of Rowson: “Mario wants to play defensive back. Trouble is, we see Mario as a linebacker. I wish Mario well, wherever he decides to play.”