COLLEGE PARK — A.J. Hendy cut his teeth facing playmakers week in and week out at safety for Maryland last fall. The only problem is that those playmakers — Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, among others — were his teammates. Hendy, who was suspended on the eve of the season opener for violating the university's code student of conduct, was on the scout team.
Hendy, a redshirt senior from Bowie, is back on the field and slated to start at safety in a talented veteran secondary. Hendy's last game action for the Terps came in a loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl at the end of 2013, but in Saturday's open scrimmage at Fan Appreciation Day, he made his return felt. Hendy intercepted quarterback Perry Hills and appeared to acquit himself well on the field.
"It was good to get out here and go full go with these guys," Hendy said Saturday. "It's been a while since I've been out here and be in a live scrimmage."
Hendy has appeared in 30 games with six starts in his Maryland career and is another experienced presence in the secondary alongside fellow safety Anthony Nixon and cornerbacks Sean Davis and Will Likely. There's a chemistry in the secondary that's expected to anchor a defense replacing almost all of its starters in the front seven while also transitioning to a new scheme under defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski.
"A.J.'s done well," coach Randy Edsall said. "That's what you would expect out of a guy that's a fifth-year guy. He's playing well, I think, with confidence. He's doing all the things that we want him to do back there and communicating well, which is important for a safety."
Hendy was expected to be a backup at safety last season. As a junior in 2013, he backed up Nixon and stepped into the starting role three times while Nixon battled a toe injury. He still appeared in 13 games, sometimes as the defense's nickel back, and finished with 32 tackles and a tackle for loss. In a 38-0 blowout of West Virginia at M&T Bank Stadium, Hendy returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown.
Last July, Hendy was involved in an incident that resulted in a second-degree assault charge for wide receiver Levern Jacobs, and the pair was suspended the day before Maryland played James Madison to open the 2014 season.
So instead of helping shut down playmakers from the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State, Hendy was relegated to facing his own teammates on a daily basis.
"It was definitely humbling," Hendy said. "I got to go against the ones every practice. I got to go against guys like Deon Long, Stefon Diggs, and those type of players. I definitely got better during my time with scout team."
On Saturday, Hendy said he feels like he's in a "new situation" and has a "new sense of optimism going forward." He's atop the depth chart from Day 1 for the first time in his career, and Edsall's been impressed with the changes he's seen in Hendy.
"It's his opportunity to step up and shine, being in that role," Edsall said. "The thing that I like about it, he's working hard each and every day."
Hendy is one of the few players left on the team who has been in College Park for Edsall's entire tenure. During Maryland's 2-10 season in 2011, Hendy became the second true freshman to start at safety since 1993 and made three starts. He finished with 30 tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown in the Terps' season finale loss at N.C. State.
He's seen the program rise from the bottom to respectability and move to the Big Ten, where he watched from the scout team last season.
Said Edsall: "He's not taking anything for granted."
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