By Don Markus
The Baltimore Sun
4:15 PM EDT, April 7, 2014
COLLEGE PARK -- Hanging above Stefon Diggs' bed at the University of Maryland is a simple sign with two words: Thank You.
They are a reminder of what Diggs has endured since breaking his right fibula last season. They are also there to bring the rising junior wide receiver back to the present, and his return to practicing with the Terps this spring.
A little more than five months after being carted off the field in an Oct. 19 game at Wake Forest — the same afternoon fellow wideout Deon Long broke his right leg — Diggs remains grateful that he is again playing football.
In his first public comments since the injury, Diggs said he thinks about that moment at BB&T Field every day.
“I’m just happy to have my legs back, cause at one point in time I wasn’t even walking,” Diggs said Monday after participating in 7-on-7 drills for the first time this spring. “I think about it every day. [The sign] is my motivation. [It says] ‘Thank you,’ for God to give me my legs back. This is my second chance.”
Diggs, who caught 37 passes for 587 yards and three touchdowns last season after making 54 receptions for 848 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman, said he is faster despite being at “90 percent” of where he was before getting hurt.
“I feel like I’m more explosive than I was previously,” Diggs said. “I’m like 188 [pounds], I was like 191, 192 last year,” Diggs said. “I feel lighter and faster, going with the wind.”
Maryland coach Randy Edsall said Diggs has been able to use the spring to work on the “mental” side of the game, and to become acclimated with new receivers coach Keenan McCardell, who played 17 years in the NFL.
“What we’ve talked to him about, and all the receivers, is that they’ve got to be complete receivers,” Edsall said. “The biggest thing he can do is he can become a better route runner than what he was a year ago. From a mental standpoint, to know what defenses are trying to do.”
Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown, who spent last spring recovering from a serious knee injury that forced him to miss the entire 2012 season, said Diggs should take advantage of whatever he can do in the spring.
“Going into the offseason, that’s when you can work on your craft and spend time on your own time and then going into [summer] camp, you go out there and put it all together,” Brown said. “Spring ball is huge mentally, especially if you can’t be out there physically.”
Said Diggs: “Being away from the game for so long, you take a lot of mental reps, and that’s where I come in with my offensive coordinator [Mike Locksley] and my wide receiver coach, who I’m really learning from. Every time I’m out there, I try to win every rep. You only get one chance, really, and it got [taken] away from me at one point, so I cherish the moment.”
Edsall said that Diggs and the rest of the receivers should be paying close attention to what McCardell has to tell them.
“If you’re not going to listen and be a sponge around a guy who has the experience he has, has the knowledge he has and the understanding how to play the position, to me you’re just cheating yourself, just cheating your team,” Edsall said.
Diggs seems to understand that.
“He’s been where I’m trying to go,” Diggs said of McCardell. “Everything he says, I take it to heart, because it means something. As a coach, he’ll lead you in the right direction. He’s not going to sugarcoat anything. ... I’ve got to iron out the wrinkles, and he’s going to be the ironing board.”
Diggs said that going through rehabilitation alongside Long was helpful. As competitive as the two have become, Diggs said he doesn’t mind being slightly behind Long in the recovery process.
“I love competing in everything that I do, and I try to express that, but I try not to rush it,” he said. “I was going to come back when I was ready.”
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