COLLEGE PARK — On a third-and-8 during the fourth quarter of Maryland's win over Iowa on Saturday, Terps outside linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil -- lined up over center -- used a quick swim move to beat Hawkeyes center Austin Blythe before converging with fellow outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue to force a hurried throw from Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Cudjoe-Virgil jumped up and got his hands on a pass after reading Rudock's eyes and recognizing that the quarterback was about to throw a screen to his side of the field.
Although Cudjoe-Virgil (Towson) is not starting as was expected before the season started, the senior still is making an impact on Maryland's defense.
After missing the first three games this year with a foot injury that he suffered during preseason practice, Cudjoe-Virgil has played in each of the last four games and has nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, a sack and two pass breakups.
"His role is still very important," Ngakoue said of the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Cudjoe-Virgil, whom outside linebackers coach Lyndon Johnson has referred to as "the Energizer Bunny" because of his motor and relentlessness. "He knows a lot. He's very smart. He knows a lot of people's assignments, not just his assignments. It's like having another Cole [Farrand] on the field.
"He's just getting guys in the right places and stuff and just making sure everybody's doing their proper assignments, and he's a very hard worker. His work ethic speaks for itself. … Sometimes he frees me up to make plays. So he's a key guy on our defense."
The year was supposed to go differently.
Cudjoe-Virgil joined Maryland as a walk-on in 2012 after two years at Seton Hill, a Division II school in Gettysburg, Pa. After sitting out in 2012 due to NCAA transfer rules, Cudjoe-Virgil had three sacks and an interception in six games last year before suffering a torn pectoral muscle that ended his season.
Cudjoe-Virgil was then one of just three outside linebackers from the Big Ten selected to the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award, given annually to the top linebacker in college football, and he practiced with the Terps' first team defense throughout the summer.
Cudjoe-Virgil missed the first three games, took time to work back to full speed once returning and has been relegated to a situational role because of the emergence of Ngakoue, who is tied for the Big Ten lead with 9.5 tackles for a loss.
Still, coaches and teammates say Cudjoe-Virgil has maintained a positive attitude and has continued to make an impact since returning. He had one tackle, the pass breakup and at least the one pressure last week against Iowa.
The main thing Cudjoe-Virgil provides?
"Just energy," Cudjoe-Virgil said. "I'm 100 percent coming out. In terms of 100 percent, I mean I'm not fatigued. I'm just pass rushing. So I think that's an advantage against a tackle that's been going through a long drive and has to go against a guy that's just coming fresh on the field ready to get after that quarterback.
"I'm not the type of guy to have any type of bitterness or anything like that or the type of guy to be upset about his role. I always embrace my role, and that's just who I am. If I have to play kickoff, I'll play kickoff. I just do my role."
That attitude comes at least partially from Cudjoe-Virgil's experience as a lightly recruited high school player who had to earn a scholarship and playing time once he got to Maryland, Cudjoe-Virgil said.
"It's definitely a humbling process, just having to earn everything through your work ethic," Cudjoe-Virgil said. "When you have to work for something, you don't take things for granted. You appreciate everything that comes your way. So that's what really humbled me and allowed me to appreciate every time I step on the field."
The injury and decrease in playing time are just the two latest obstacles on a journey that Cudjoe-Virgil said he hopes ends with a successful season for Maryland and an opportunity in the NFL.