Ryan Doyle had numbers "popping up" in his head during Maryland's practices this week. The senior offensive lineman wasn't thinking about the numbers 2 and 8 — the Terps' win-loss record in a trying season — but he was ticking off the number of practices remaining in his career.
On Monday, he had two more Tuesday practices left in his five-year career in College Park. Tuesday afternoon, that number was down to one. Entering Saturday's game against Indiana, he has one more home game and two more games overall. By Saturday evening, those numbers will be zero and one.
With the curtain falling on the season, Doyle and the rest of Maryland's seniors have taken stock of their careers, reflecting on the past and trying to end the season on a high note against Indiana and Rutgers.
"As those numbers slowly start to dwindle down, you start to savor all of the nuances of practice, whether it be 1-on-1 drills with the D-line or the team drills," Doyle said Wednesday. "You realize that it is inevitably going to come to an end."
Center Evan Mulrooney, another of the 15 players Maryland will honor in a pregame senior day ceremony, agreed.
"You definitely start noticing things like that," Mulrooney said. "Not just that, but the time with everyone that you share, like eating dinner with the guys. I won't have too many more opportunities until we meet up for our children's bar mitzvahs or whatever down the road, that we're going to have an intimate moment like that where we're sitting together, enjoying one's company, and I think that's something I'm trying to savor right now."
Maryland's fifth-year players — Doyle, Mulrooney, right guard Andrew Zeller, safety A.J. Hendy, running back Brandon Ross — have a career record of 22-38, while the fourth-year players are 20-28 during their time in College Park.
Those who arrived in 2011 watched former coach Randy Edsall overhaul the program, leading to a mass exodus of players after a 2-10 season. But they experienced Maryland's first back-to-back winning seasons in more than a decade. This season, though, the Terps couldn't recover from a slow start, and Edsall was fired on Oct. 11.
The seniors continued to work with the younger players and lead them through the season. It's been more than two months since Maryland won a game, but the Terps have been working so that this season doesn't repeat itself.
Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, a junior, credited Doyle, Zeller and offensive linemen Stephen Grommer for helping with his adjustment to the college game. And it's paid off this season, with Ngakoue just a half-sack away from the program's single-season sack record.
"Those guys helped me out my first year just with pass rushing, showing me there's a different level in competition in college than from high school, so you've got to work to be great," Ngakoue said. "Those guys, it just means a lot to me just to bust myself each and every practice, so we can get those guys a win."
Interim coach Mike Locksley said that during his time at Maryland in the late 1990s, another set of lean years for the Terps, he coached teams that "didn't always show up, especially late in the year." He hasn't had to worry about that with this year's squad, even with the losses mounting.
"Those guys have shown up with a blue-collar mentality," Locksley said. "They've showed up and come to work every day, and I think the young players have learned by their example that they're setting. You be a professional in how you go about doing business, and those guys, again, I take my hat off to them because they fought through a tough year and they continue to fight."
When Locksley took over as interim coach in mid-October, he set about making things fun for the players again. There were more competition periods in practice, and he changed the offensive and defensive schemes to be more wide-open and aggressive. He helped set the tone, and it resonated with the seniors.
During their Friday walk-throughs, the Terps played shirts vs. skins pickup football — Mulrooney called himself "the Lynn Swann of shirts and skins football" — to connect back with their roots of playing the game. In a way, it's brought them full circle. When they started playing football, it was in the backyard, a fun activity. Now in the final days of their college careers, it's reverted back to something similar.
"In the whole allure of college football, you get caught up in the stands and the fans and the media and all the money that goes into it, but when you come down to the nuts and bolts of it, it's still the game you grew up playing in the backyard with your older brother and the neighborhood hooligans," Mulrooney said. "I think that's something that has started getting reintroduced to us so late in our college careers. It's really making us feel like this is definitely how the game's supposed to be played."
On Wednesday, Mulrooney and Doyle sat next to each other in Byrd Stadium and conducted their interviews with the media together. They'll line up next to each other at center and left guard for the final time at Byrd Stadium on Saturday and then one last time next week at Rutgers.
Despite the up-and-down results from their careers at Maryland, both came to the same conclusion.