COLLEGE PARK - University of Maryland junior wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, a McDonogh graduate and big-play threat for the Terps the past three seasons, announced yesterday that he plans to forgo his senior year and enter the 2009 NFL draft.
Heyward-Bey, a two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, said he debated the pros and cons with everyone close to him before making his decision, from his mother, to coach Ralph Friedgen, to former Ravens receiver Devard Darling, a close family friend. Ultimately, he decided it was time to leave.
"I felt like this opportunity might never be here again," Heyward-Bey said. "You just never know. ... I'm ready to turn a new chapter. I loved my time at Maryland. I really did. Coach Fridgen did a great job of educating me on the football field. I couldn't see myself having gone to any other school."
Heyward-Bey leaves Maryland as one of the most productive wide receivers in school history, which would have been hard to predict when he signed considering he had never played football before his sophomore year at McDonogh. But Heyward-Bey, who nearly quit the team as a redshirt freshman because the coaching staff didn't think he would ever truly blossom, ended up second all time at Maryland in receiving yards (2,089), third in receptions (138) and tied for third in touchdown catches (13).
"The one thing he has, not that many people in the country have, is raw speed," Friedgen said. "But I've seen him get better in route-running, blocking, and he catches the ball better in games than he does in practice. With the [small] number of years Darrius has been playing, his game is all ahead of him. His intangibles are off the charts as far as I'm concerned."
In 2008, Heyward-Bey led the Terps with 42 receptions for 609 yards, and scored five touchdowns. He also ranked third on the team in rushing with 202 yards on 15 carries (13.5 yards per carry). He continued to be one of Maryland's biggest deep threats, with three plays of at least 60 yards.
Friedgen said he called various NFL general managers he knows to gauge where Heyward-Bey might be picked if he entered the draft and that the feedback he received on the junior's prospects was "favorable."
"He got positive feedback, and that made me feel good," Heyward-Bey said. "It wasn't nothing too crazy or too wild. But if it wasn't positive, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation."
Friedgen and Heyward-Bey debated for nearly four hours at Friedgen's house in Silver Spring whether he should go pro, and the coach said he gave the junior receiver his "complete blessing.
"He's done it the right way, and it's obvious it's the right thing for him," Friedgen said.
Heyward-Bey burst into the spotlight his freshman year with a 96-yard touchdown catch against Miami, but he had his share of struggles as well, especially as Maryland's quarterback situation had its ups and downs and he had to adjust to frequent double-teams later in his career. But he said he enjoyed his entire experience at Maryland.
"I don't think any of my years hurt me in any type of way," said Heyward-Bey, adding that he had withdrawn from classes but hopes to return and get his diploma. "I had a chance to show some toughness, show my ability to block, and to make plays when the team needed me. I think I showed the ability to bounce back when things aren't going right."