COLLEGE PARK — The scattered clouds over the practice fields at Maryland offered the Terps scant relief from the midday sun as they moved from one drill to another during their first full practice of fall camp.
An air horn blast signaled the end of one session and the beginning of another, and a group of offensive skill position players started to slowly make its way from one end of a practice field to the other. But the players' steps were slow and lackadaisical, and with an intense coaching staff watching everything, that type of lollygagging wasn't going to pass muster.
"No one cares if you're tired," Maryland coach DJ Durkin barked at the players before making them go back about 20 yards and retrace their steps, this time in a sprint.
This is Maryland practice under Durkin and his staff. There's "Seven Nation Army" chants from the defense on the sideline during the practice-ending competition session. There's screaming, yelling and hitting. There's the first-year coach's stamp of intensity on a program that's being molded in his vision. And it will be these August days that Durkin wants to shape the Terps before they embark on another season with a tough Big Ten Conference schedule.
"We're trying to make it as hard as we can," Durkin said.
During spring practice, the Terps held early morning practices to help work around class schedules. But without that factor to worry about this month, Durkin has scheduled practices for the heat of the day.
Aside from building toughness, there is some method to the madness. Maryland's season opener against Howard on Sept. 3 has a noon kickoff. The Terps play their next two games in Florida, where they could still face heat and soupy humidity even though their matchups at Florida International and Central Florida kick off at night. The majority of games likely will be played in the afternoon, so that's when Maryland is practicing.
Durkin doesn't want those elements to be something the Terps will have to adjust to. He wants it to be the norm.
"The heat makes cowards out of us all. ... We're working on some mental toughness, and that's what we're going to do," Durkin said.
So after practice, cornerback Will Likely met reporters with a soaking wet Gatorade towel wrapped around his neck. Wide receiver D.J. Moore shed his pads. Defensive end Roman Braglio's uniform was sopping wet from sweat and he poured water on himself every chance he could get.
"You've just got to come out here," said Braglio (McDonogh). "It's all a mental thing. You come out here, as hot as it is, you've just got to fight through it, you know what I mean? I'm constantly squirting myself with water. I'm soaked right now. But yeah, it's definitely a mindset. You've got to push through it. We're going to be playing at this time."
As he has before, Durkin praised his team for how they've bought in to the message he and his staff have brought to the team. It has made the transition to Durkin relatively easy, and he has seen the results on the field and in the weight room with a group of players that went 3-9 last season.
"We're making it hard on them," Durkin said. "These practices are hard, they're physical. That's it. I just want to see the mentality of getting better every day. Football's one of those days where you put a lot of work in for a few number of games. You've got to embrace that, enjoy that process. You go through and kind of building the team together. That's it."
Maryland faces myriad questions at a number of important positions over the next few weeks. There's five quarterbacks competing for an open job. The Terps have to replace three experienced starters in the secondary. The offensive line has to replace three starters. Players who were seeing time as green underclassmen are expected to take the next steps in their development.
Those are the things that will shake out over the next few weeks in the College Park heat.
One of the go-to sayings of Durkin's mentor, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, is some variation of, "The sun shapes the body and carves the mind." In his first camp as a head coach, Durkin has brought his players out into that sun, that heat and that humidity to work at top speed.
"Practicing in this heat, has gotten us — we're going to be in really good shape when the season comes," offensive lineman Brendan Moore said. "It's going to be great."
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