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Maryland's Will Likely invited to NFL Scouting Combine

Maryland cornerback/return specialist Will Likely, who suffered a season-ending knee injury his senior year, has been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.

Maryland cornerback and return specialist Will Likely III, whose future in the NFL seemed imperiled by a midseason ACL injury as a senior last fall, has taken several steps in his recovery and rehabilitation over the past three months.

Likely also recently took another leap toward living out the boyhood dream that began in the swamps of Belle Glade, Fla., when he was recently invited to attend this year's NFL Scouting Combine, scheduled for Indianapolis from Feb. 28-March 6.

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In a telephone interview Tuesday night from Arizona, where he has been rehabbing and training since he graduated from Maryland in December, Likely admitted he wasn't sure whether he was going to be invited after injuring his knee and undergoing surgery.

"Part of me thought I should have been invited, and the other part was telling me, 'It's not what you think. Nobody owes you nothing,'" Likely said. "It was up for grabs. It was not a big concern, but it was in the back of my mind."

Likely's agent, who first confirmed the invitation to the Combine on Tuesday, said he didn't have the same worries as his client.

"There was never any question in my mind whether he would be invited," Chad Wiestling said.

Wiestling, who played at Maryland from 1989 to 1992, said Likely received an invitation within the past couple of weeks. Wiestling added that Likely's rehabilitation from ACL surgery "is way, way ahead of schedule," and Likely should be ready to take part in a Pro Day in College Park in late March or early April.

Wiestling said Likely is running and has full range of motion in the knee. Likely is currently at the Fischer Institute in Phoenix, run by Brett Fischer, who is the physical therapist for the Arizona Cardinals.

"We're shooting for him to be [participating] at the combine, with kind of a guarded goal, but definitely Pro Day is going to happen," Wiestling said. "If not, if he's not ready, we'll have our own on campus for Will."

Likely, who was injured after mishandling a punt against Minnesota at Maryland Stadium on Oct. 15, said he "definitely surprised myself" in how quickly he has been able to get back on the field for running, though he is still not trying to make any cuts.

"I set a high goal for myself. I try to set unrealistic goals so I can have something to shoot for," Likely said. "I didn't expect to be this far ahead by this time."

Before his injury, Likely was considered one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten and one of the best return specialists in the country.

A two-time all Big Ten cornerback and an All-American as a returner as a junior, the 5-foot-7, 175-pound Likely set or shared six Maryland single-season records for kickoff, punt and interception returns and shares the school career record with two interceptions for touchdowns.

As a junior, Likely ranked third in the nation in return yardage (1,197 yards) and punt return average (17.7), and broke a 76-year Big Ten record for punt return yardage with 233, including a touchdown, against Richmond. He also led the Terps in rushing against Wisconsin with 56 yards on three carries.

While not commenting specifically about Likely receiving an invitation, Jeff Foster, director of scouting for the NFL, said that it is not uncommon for players who have been seriously injured during the season to receive invitations to the Scouting Combine.

"In terms of player selection, we based the selection entirely off of football evaluation — if we believe a player is draft-worthy, we would extend an invitation to them as long as the player has not violated some sort of NFL policy that would deny them the opportunity to participate," Foster said.

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Wiestling would not speculate as to where he thinks Likely will go in the NFL Draft. When Likely was considering coming out after his junior year, Wiestling said he believes he would have been a third- or fourth-round pick.

"Where it is now? I don't have an answer for that," Wiestling said. "I just know through my experience, there's going to be a lot of 'We want to see how he responds.' The Combine will be the first real test. All the team doctors and trainers will be able to see where he's at and start to get a ballpark [idea]. The one I do know: He'll be playing on Sundays."

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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