COLLEGE PARK — In a football coaching career that has crisscrossed the country and taken him up and down the East Coast, Mike Locksley has spent 10 years at Maryland. And in his time at the school, he has forged relationships with a number of former players.
In the lead-up to the Terps' homecoming game against Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten Conference) on Saturday, Locksley said his phone has been ringing regularly with calls from former Maryland (2-6, 4-4) players he coached and recruited, telling him they plan to return to Byrd Stadium.
And with plenty of other alumni trekking back to College Park for the matchup, players have taken notice.
"You've got people watching, people that really care about the program, people that put just as much blood, sweat, tears as we have," center Evan Mulrooney said. "There's definitely a little bit more pride in this game. Obviously, there's pride in every game, but obviously this one, a little bit more with the homecoming."
On Locksley's weekly radio show last week, former linebacker Eric Barton said he would make his first trip to a Terps game since he played in the late 1990s, when Locksley, now Maryland's interim coach, was on staff. Barton, who led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 14 1/2 tackles per game in 1998 and was named the Terps' most valuable player that season, had a 12-year NFL career with the Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and Cleveland Browns.
"As I've shared with the team, homecoming is about all the former players and alums that have had the opportunity to represent this great university," Locksley said. "It's not about us. It's our job to put on a good showing for our friends, family, alums that have all worn the red, black, gold and white. I know they'll do that for us come Saturday."
Saturday will be freshman tight end Avery Edwards' first homecoming. He said the team has "really gathered" around Locksley since former coach Randy Edsall's firing Oct. 11, while quarterback Perry Hills said the Terps have been playing for each other over the past few weeks.
While trying to keep their bowl hopes alive against a Wisconsin team that has won four straight games, the Terps can play for more than Locksley and each other. Edwards knows their game has added meaning this week.
"I think everybody on the team is really excited about homecoming," Edwards said. "Like Coach Locks told us, homecoming's not about us. It's about the Terps, the past Terps that played before us and letting them come home and have pride in their team and pride in their university and hopefully give them a win."
Wisconsin is Maryland's fifth straight opponent with a scoring defense ranked in the top 17 nationally. The Terps rank 11th in the Big Ten in scoring offense with 23.9 points per game, but in their four conference games, they are 12th (18.2 points per game) and have allowed 34.8 points per game.
It's a slog of a Big Ten schedule, especially with No. 6 Michigan State waiting next week in East Lansing, Mich. But the Terps are returning to Byrd Stadium for the first time in five weeks and are hoping to get a boost.
"We're talking about it this week," Mulrooney said. "Locks is talking about all the people that are coming back, and he's saying in a year, you guys are going to be coming back and you're going to want the guys out there to represent the school like you did. So we're just kind of throwing all our cards on the table and trying to come out with a win."
Since he took over almost a month ago, Locksley's mantra has been that each week is a one-game season for the Terps. He has tried to simplify things for Maryland, not wanting players to try to do too much after a slow start and Edsall's firing.
But the Terps have allowed that this week's game, along with its expected atmosphere, might mean a bit more.
"People are coming back, and they're coming back to their home, their alma mater," Mulrooney said. "They want to see a win. They want to see us represent the school to the fullest, and so, yeah, I guess I take back what I said about this being any other game. It's not just any other game. It's homecoming."