Maryland coach DJ Durkin talks with the media at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. (Don Markus / Baltimore Sun video)
A year ago, the lead-up to the first Maryland football game had everything to do with the team's new coach, DJ Durkin, and not its first opponent.
As the Terps get ready for the start of preseason practice next week in College Park, the focus is no longer on their 39-year-old coach but on their 124-year-old opening game opponent.
Though Texas is coming off a 5-7 season compared with the 6-7 record Maryland put together in Durkin's debut, a road game in Austin has a completely different ring — and feel — to it than a home game against Howard.
"I think obviously our players have a great understanding of the tradition, the level of talent on the roster at Texas," Durkin said Monday during the first day of Big Ten Media Days.
"But obviously that's something, without being said, I know was in the back of everyone's mind. I think it does, it forces you to be a little more on top of your game and know you've got to be ready Week 1."
Said senior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr.: "It's definitely easier [getting ready]. It's a big-time school. They have a lot of tradition, great players, great former players. You want to go to Texas. You know the environment is going to be crazy."
Carter conceded Monday that he has started watching tape of the Longhorns, though it's unclear how much the system will change under Herman, who spent his first two seasons as a head coach at Houston after being offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer at Ohio State.
"I'm not going to disclose what I've watched, but I've started watching and I've got a good eye for what they're doing," Carter said.
Junior wide receiver D.J. Moore knows how important it would be for the growth of the Maryland program under Durkin to win at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on the opening weekend of the season. But he also understands the pitfalls.
"You want it to be a statement game, but you don't want it to be a statement game, because it would definitely put pressure on for the rest of the season to be as successful from the first game through the whole season," Moore said Monday. "If you don't, then it's a letdown to everybody."
Having played at places such as Ohio State and Nebraska — catching a 52-yard touchdown pass as a freshman in Columbus and turning a short screen pass into a 92-yard touchdown last season in Lincoln — going to Austin should not be overwhelming to Moore.
"Walking out on the field, it's probably going to be like 'Wow' when you first walk in, but when it's game time, you're just going to block that out and be ready to go," Moore said.
Durkin hopes his players are not making too much of the trip to Texas on Labor Day weekend.
"Guys know that when they come to Maryland, they're going to compete at the highest level, they're going to play in national games just about every week, that they're going to get the exposure, the attention and they're going to compete against the best in the country," Durkin said.
“That to me is the major positive of the conference we play in and the schedule we have. Quite frankly, if a guy doesn’t want to do that or is kind of hesitant about that, that ain’t the right guy we want to recruit anyways and it’ll sort itself out. As you’re able to recruit guys like that … those are the games you want to play in.”
Fortunately for the Terps, who will get a return game with the Longhorns at FedEx Field to open the 2018 season, Texas is also in rebuilding mode after three straight losing seasons led to the firing of Charlie Strong and the hiring of Herman.
Still, some believe the talent Herman has inherited might be worthy of Top 25 recognition by the end of the 2017 season, something that has not yet been said about Maryland despite two strong recruiting classes, including a consensus Top 20 class earlier this year.
Asked whether he was happy that the game against Texas was to open his second season at Maryland and not his first, Durkin chuckled.
“The schedule is what it is,” he said. “Those things are made so far in advance. ... I say to the team all the time, ‘Control the controllables’ I don’t worry a second over things I don’t have control over. … That’s who we play, let’s go play ’em, let’s go get ready. It’s a great positive for our guys, playing a game like that. Major tradition, good program. You better be ready to play. There’s no easing into the season. There it is.”
NOTES:Durkin said senior linebacker Shane Cockerille (Gilman) has fulfilled all the steps needed to be reinstated to full-time duty after being suspended before the bowl game in December for undisclosed reasons, but has still not been cleared to begin practice next week. “He’s trending in that direction,” Durkin said.