Jacquille Veii comes full circle with return to Maryland football team

Jacquille Veii’s journey as a college football player has had its share of detours and one obvious roundabout. Yet like a long-distance traveler who didn’t have the modern luxury of GPS and didn’t know how to read a road map, Veii wound up right where he began four years ago.

Then, he was a promising freshman whose speed and versatility helped get him onto the field as a running back and slot receiver shortly after he arrived at Maryland, yet whose impatience to find a bigger role at either spot led to a deteriorating relationship with former coach Randy Edsall and to Veii's transferring to Towson after his sophomore year.

Now, after returning to the Terps last season under new coach DJ Durkin and sitting out in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, Veii is hoping to finish what he started. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound redshirt senior is solidly in the mix at slot receiver, which in Walt Bell’s offense means catching short passes and running Jet sweeps.

Veii conceded recently that returning to Maryland was “a little weird” at first.

“It was like, ‘Man, I was already here and these guys [the incoming freshmen] are just coming here,’” Veii said after a recent practice. “It was a good adjustment. I just stayed low, kept my head down and did whatever they asked me to do. It was an easy transition.”

Veii said he had the support of his family and his new/old teammates.

“My mom, she knows that I’ve got a good head on my shoulders and I’m not going to do something that is going to be detrimental to my future,” Veii said. “[His old teammates] understood my situation and they respected it and they were just happy to have me back on the team.”

It also required financial help as well. Veii had to show Durkin he was willing to put in the work, which meant paying his own way for the first semester. Veii got some of the money from his aunt, Angela Brathwaite, and the rest through a loan his father, Kazuvire Veii, took out. The elder Veii teaches psychology at the University of Namibia in West Africa.

Veii realized how fortunate he had been to have a scholarship.

“It definitely made me think about all that stuff,” Veii said. “My family doesn’t come from money and it was a struggle. It definitely made me think about what I had to do [to earn his scholarship].”

Durkin smiled when asked whether Veii’s second chance at Maryland was unique.

“Unique is a definitely a good word for it,” Durkin said. “We have high expectations [for Veii]. You look at practices last year, he stood out. He’s a guy who certainly could have helped us a bunch last year, obviously. Really fast, dynamic speed, competitive, works hard. He’s all the things you want.”

Veii also showed that in flashes his first two years. After playing more as a running back his freshman year, picking up 146 yards on 39 carries, Veii played more as a receiver in 2014 as a backup to Stefon Diggs, finishing with 16 catches for 230 yards. He also rushed 19 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

Having lost Levern Jacobs and Teldrick Morgan, who as seniors last season were the team’s second- and third-leading receivers, respectively, behind sophomore D.J. Moore, the Terps are clearly in need of new targets for whoever winds up following Perry Hills at quarterback.

Veii is competing with Jacobs’ younger brother, Taivon, a senior who missed last season with a knee injury, and sophomore D.J. Turner. There will be more competition coming this summer from a number of freshmen, including four-star prospects Tahj Capehart and Sean Nelson.

“As a competitor you always have to prove yourself, because if you don’t feel like you have to prove yourself, you get complacent and that’s when the competition gets one-up on you,” Veii said. “You’ve got to be evolving and adding stuff to your game and proving yourself every time you come out here.”

Unlike when he was being shuttled back and forth between running back and wide receiver, Veii knows that Durkin and Bell plan to use him strictly in the slot.

“It just gives me stability and consistency, especially in my workouts and what I’ve got to work on, instead of having [to] split time and having to do running back workouts and doing wide receiver workouts because I didn’t know what I was going to be doing,” Veii said.

“It was kind of tough mentally. The body position that you play at the receiver and running back is two different movements, so I literally had to change how I moved my body and all that stuff. I had a great coach and a great teacher in Stef off the field and he’s been my mentor ever since then.”

Veii, who led Towson in receiving with 40 catches for 505 yards in 2015, hopes to get a chance to follow Diggs into the NFL someday. But first he must make the best of his second chance with the Terps.

Like a long-distance traveler at the end of a journey, Veii is a bit famished.

“Anytime you come from not playing for a whole year, it’s like you’re a shark smelling blood in the water. You want to eat,” Veii said. “I’m hungry and I want to eat.”

don.markus@baltsun.com

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