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Ahead of senior day, Maryland sees bright future

Maryland defensive lineman Azubuike Ukandu (95) carries a Maryland flag as he runs onto the field with teammates before an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Maryland defensive lineman Azubuike Ukandu (95) carries a Maryland flag as he runs onto the field with teammates before an NCAA college football game against Wisconsin, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)(Patrick Semansky / AP)

Maryland will honor its seniors before their final game at Byrd Stadium against Indiana on Saturday, and while the pregame ceremony late that morning helps to close one chapter of the Terps' history, another remains blank with much to be filled in.

With no bowl game to look forward to and only games against Indiana and Rutgers — the Terps, Hoosiers and Scarlet Knights are a combined 1-18 in Big Ten Conference play — left on the schedule, the Terps have been looking to the future. Younger players have been getting more playing time and increased roles, future contributors getting a chance today.

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"I feel like this team that we have right now can go on with the guys that we have and be a Big Ten contender for championships going forward," said safety A.J. Hendy, one of the seniors who will be honored late Saturday morning.

Interim coach Mike Locksley's word of choice when talking about the youth and future of his team has been "nucleus."

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Middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr., a sophomore, leads the Terps with 83 tackles. Defensive tackle Azubuike Ukandu, a junior who stepped in for injured sophomore David Shaw earlier this season, has 15 tackles and 3 1/2 tackles for loss in the past three games. Wide receiver D.J. Moore has 18 catches for 283 yards and three touchdowns in his freshman season.

There's also a pair of redshirt freshman offensive tackles who could serve as cornerstones of the future offense in Damian Prince and Derwin Gray. Maryland has accumulated some talent in College Park, and in seeing what he has this season, Locksley is providing a glimpse of what the future could hold.

"I really do believe we've got a really good nucleus," Locksley said Tuesday. "When you look at how we've played a tough schedule, it hasn't been just blowouts. Our guys have competed, and we've had opportunities, and what we've got to do is mature a little bit more as a team and take advantage of some of the opportunities that we've created."

Maryland's younger players should be battle-tested in the future, too. The Terps' opponents this season have won 78 percent of their games, and three of their past five opponents — No. 2 Ohio State, No. 6 Iowa, and No. 9 Michigan State — are ranked in the Associated Press top 25. In last week's College Football Playoff rankings, five of Maryland's opponents were ranked.

The younger players have seen the Big Ten's most raucous environments and top teams. The crowd of 107,869 at Ohio Stadium for Maryland's 49-28 loss to then-No. 1 Ohio State in early October was the largest crowd to ever watch a Maryland game. The Big Ten's East division is loaded with programs that are among some of the best historically and currently in college football.

Prince and Gray have realized they will be among Maryland's more experienced players next year, so it will be on them to mentor and help younger players, especially on an offensive line set to lose three senior starters.

"We definitely have to lead the pack going into next year, with a couple of younger guys coming in and guys who haven't played are going to get the opportunity to play next year," Prince said. "I definitely feel like we have to be leaders from this point on."

Maryland has a chance to end its season on a positive note and snap a lengthy losing streak with two winnable games against Indiana and Rutgers. The Terps are favored this week for the first time since their last victory over South Florida on Sept. 19. When he took over the team on Oct. 11, Locksley said he told Maryland's senior class this was their chance to solidify their legacy.

But after they move on, those seniors are confident in the players left in College Park for the future.

"I think we're in a great position," Hendy said. "We have a lot of young guys that have played and played well, stepped up in some big moments. I think the team's in great hands going forward."

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