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Mike Locksley begins Maryland stint with focus on players

When Mike Locksley takes the field as Maryland's interim coach against Penn State on Saturday, he's not worried about getting butterflies or having any nerves in his first game as a team's head coach since 2011. He's just expecting to have "that rock-gut feeling" with all of the scenarios for the afternoon flashing through his mind. Most of all, Locksley's excited to be back on the field after two whirlwind weeks.

When Mike Locksley takes the field as Maryland's interim coach against Penn State on Saturday, he's not worried about getting butterflies or having any nerves in his first game as a team's head coach since 2011. He's just expecting to have "that rock-gut feeling" with all of the scenarios for the afternoon flashing through his mind.

Most of all, Locksley's excited to be back on the field after two whirlwind weeks and to have the opportunity to be back with the Terps for a game in which they're trying to end a three-game losing streak.

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For Locksley, that's where the emphasis is going to lie for the final six games of the season: with the players. Days after he was named interim coach and athletic director Kevin Anderson said he expects the offensive coordinator to be a candidate to remain coach, Locksley said he had "zero expectations" of earning the job. And with an uncertain future for the program, Locksley said he's not going to be preoccupied with how things will shake out on that front.

"I really am not going to concern myself with auditioning for a head coaching job," Locksley said Tuesday. "I won't politic for it. I think my only mission and my only job is to make sure that these kids, especially the seniors, have an opportunity to go out and be as competitive as they can be the next six weeks, to go out and have as much fun, to play the game with as much passion as they can."

In the aftermath of Randy Edsall's firing on Oct. 11, Locksley talked about getting the players in touch with their feelings about the previous few weeks. He didn't want any players to feel like they were at fault for Edsall losing his job, and as the season continues, Locksley doesn't want the Terps to feel like they're playing for anyone's job or future. It's an intuitive bit of psychology from Locksley, who is tasked with trying to get a team that has lost three straight games by at least 21 points to turn the page.

Locksley, known as an ace recruiter especially in the Washington and Baltimore areas, already has the ear of many of the players. He was the primary recruiter for many of them and helped with their decision to come to College Park. Many local high school players on the Terps talked about wanting to stay close to home to build a successful program. Their trust in Locksley, a Washington native, played a significant role in that.

"He's just a man of his word, man," defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said. "He's a guy you really want to be coached by. You know he means good, so it's a privilege to be coached by him."

Many of the changes that Locksley has made to the program since his interim coaching stint began appear cosmetic. Right guard Andrew Zeller said Locksley has played music before the Terps' 7 a.m. meetings to help them wake up and get ready for practice. The competition periods he added to practice bring another level of intensity.

But those changes also speak to a deeper connection Locksley has with the players, and his ability to relate to them.

"Everything he does is for his players," said Damascus running back Jake Funk, who committed to Maryland last week. "A lot of guys, including myself, really like that. If you have a coach that will support you no matter what, it means a lot."

Penn State coach James Franklin, who served as an assistant alongside Locksley at Maryland in the early 2000s, said Locksley isn't talked about as a coach and coordinator as much as he should be. But Franklin credited Locksley's knowledge and the trust he has built through relationships as major factors in his success recruiting the fertile Washington and Baltimore areas.

"Mike is a fixture in that community. … Mike's been fortunate to stay in the same area for a long time, the area he grew up in where he's got a lot of contacts and knows a lot of people and has a lot of relationships," Franklin said. "He got away for a little bit and has come back. So that's always valuable, whenever you can have people on your staff that have strong ties in recruiting areas where they have connections, there's a lot of value that comes with that because over time, you have to build trust."

The trust between Locksley and the Terps could be more important now than ever. The interim coach wants to take the pressure off a team that has been stagnant and tight at times this season but showed off a rejuvenated offense against Ohio State.

Whether or not his stint lasts only six games or extends beyond Maryland's Nov. 28 matchup at Rutgers, Locksley simply wants the Terps to play hard. They're underdogs for the rest of the season, and they have the opportunity to establish a legacy. That's what Locksley, the players' coach, wants to see.

"The thing that we really just stress is let's go out and have fun and play football in its purest form, which is back in the day when you played with your friends and you went in the backyard and you just let it all kind of cut loose," Locksley said. "That's the mentality we want to play with because we really have nothing to lose as a program."

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