COLLEGE PARK — When Jefferson Ashiru transferred to Maryland from Connecticut , there was already an element of familiarity for the linebacker.
Defensive backs coach Darrell Perkins had recruited him to UConn, and his commitment came about three weeks after coach Randy Edsall had left the Huskies to take over the Terps.
But aside from the coaching staff, there was an additional factor that made him feel closer to his home of Powder Springs, Georgia. Offensive lineman JaJuan Dulaney and wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo are also products of McEachern High School, and fellow linebacker Jalen Brooks faced McEachern while playing for North Gwinnett High School.
For a graduate transfer switching programs for his final season of eligibility and acclimating to a new environment, it was helpful. And three games into the lone season of his Maryland career, Ashiru is starting to get up to speed.
"It was a nice transition," Ashiru said. "All the guys on the team are welcoming, friendly. It's a brotherhood on this team. It's nice."
Ashiru has started the first three games of the season and has nine solo tackles and 14 overall. But he said that it's taken a few games for him to get more comfortable in defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski's 4-3 scheme. Now that he's adjusted, he feels he can become a more vocal leader.
Ashiru said he's become much more vocal in the past week than he had been in the first month of practices. As a newcomer, he didn't want to "step on any toes," but he saw an opening to help lead the team. He's the oldest player in Maryland's front seven on the two-deep, so after the loss to Bowling Green, he spoke up and helped the team get past the loss.
"It's been like an uphill battle for me, honestly," Ashiru said. "I feel like this past week, it really clicked for me. I feel really in tune with the team. I feel a lot of love for this team. Now I'm trying to keep the ball rolling."
Edsall has taken notice of Ashiru's progression. Ashiru, who transferred to Maryland this summer after leaving the UConn program during last season, said that the biggest learning curve has been figuring out the finer points of playing linebacker in Dudzinski's system. He's played all three linebacker positions in his college career, but in every scheme, the little things and smaller responsibilities are different. So it's taken time for him to learn.
"He's starting to be more comfortable with the scheme and understanding everything that he's responsible for," coach Randy Edsall said. "A guy who's played as much football as he did prior to coming here, we expect him to get better and I think that he has. Just moving forward, I want to see him continue to play faster, play with more confidence and I think he'll continue to do that as he gets more and more reps and he settles in a little more."
In August, middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said Ashiru made a seamless transition into the team chemistry-wise. And he also provided an element of experience within the front seven, which has two fourth-year players in defensive end Roman Braglio and defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson.
"He brings a lot of aggressiveness, and he's a really physical dude," Brooks said. "Big, strong guy, so he's really mature. … He's been in some battles up at UConn. We can learn from him."
Moore emerges as trusty target at wide receiver
Trailing by a touchdown and facing fourth down deep in South Florida territory, Maryland needed a big play. Coming up short could put the Terps in a bigger hole after a turnover had led to the first Bulls touchdown.
As he crouched under center, quarterback Caleb Rowe audibled out of the run play that had been called. Then he hit wide receiver D.J. Moore, a freshman making his first career start, on the outside for a 10-yard gain and a first down. A few plays later, Maryland scored to tie the game, 7-7, in its eventual 35-17 victory.
Three games into his young college career, Moore has emerged as a trusted target for the Terps. Against South Florida, he caught three passes for 47 yards, both the highest marks of his short career.
"It gave me a lot of confidence," Moore said Tuesday. "I know that he has confidence in me to make a play when it's needed."
Moore hopes that his rise continues this weekend in Maryland's matchup at West Virginia. He has developed chemistry with Rowe — who showered Moore with high praise last week — and the duo was on the same page against South Florida. For the season, Moore has six catches for 112 yards and a touchdown, which came on a 42-yard catch and run against Bowling Green.
In the offseason, the Maryland coaching staff encouraged the wide receivers to work with all of the quarterbacks on the roster in preparation for the three-way quarterback competition in August. So when Rowe replaced Perry Hills as the starter for South Florida, Moore knew what to expect.
"Through practice, he just lets the ball go, so we go out and are making plays in practice," Moore said. "So that when it comes to the game, we can just play like we're in practice."
The depth chart shuffling that preceded last week's game seemed to have the desired impact, with Rowe throwing for 297 yards, the fourth-most a Maryland quarterback has passed for in coach Randy Edsall's tenure. Moore's already played a big role in that, and as he develops and gets more comfortable, he expects to play an even more significant part.
"Everything seems to be moving more efficiently because we've been able to get everything down and faster with our pace," Moore said.