After season-ending injury, Maryland WR Dontay Demus Jr. is ready to reclaim his spot as ‘the alpha’

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It’s been nearly 11 months since Maryland wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. lay on the field in pain as thousands of spectators — and a national TV audience — watched. The memory replays in his mind like a bad dream.


Demus was on the verge of a breakout performance against then-No. 5 Iowa in front of a “blackout” crowd that October night. He had caught four passes for 61 yards in the first quarter, adding to his Big Ten Conference-leading total, when, on a second-quarter kick return, Demus’ right leg buckled as he was twisted to the ground. “I was on the cusp of doing something great,” Demus said, “[and] it was taken away too early.”

Demus was carted off the field with a season-ending knee injury that forced him to put his NFL dreams on hold and be a spectator to Maryland’s first winning season in seven years. Meanwhile, he endured a challenging rehab process. For 10 months, he waited.

Maryland wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. "was on the cusp of doing something great" when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in October. Now, after a grueling monthslong rehab, he's ready to dominate again.

Demus’ journey to get back on the field early this month was a physical and mental challenge. Head athletic trainer Brian Simerville described the road to recovery as being up-and-down with a few setbacks.

Acceptance was the first step in Demus’ rehab. He had never suffered a major injury before, and had to accept it wouldn’t be a smooth process.

“Usually with Dontay, he gets banged up and keeps going,” Simerville said. “It’s a slow process initially. Once you get going, things come a lot easier, but being patient [and] allowing your body to heal is always the toughest part.”

Demus, a senior, had to wait four months before starting any rigorous rehab. He took several tests to evaluate his movement, balance, endurance and hamstring-to-quad ratio, comparing his injured leg to the other. They used a biotech machine to track Demus’ quad and hamstring strength and examine the stability in his knee, among other things. “There [were] a lot of different tests that he had to pass before we [could] move on,” Simerville said. “He accepted those as challenges.”

Maryland wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr., right, led the Big Ten Conference in receiving yards before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Iowa in October.

Seven months into his recovery process, Demus said he started feeling a little bit more like himself. He started walking and jogging. In early June, Demus said he was getting out of his breaks better. During Big Ten media days last month, coach Mike Locksley said Demus sprinted around 21 mph according to the wearable technology Catapult, a sign that his explosiveness, which had made him one of the country’s best receivers, had returned.

“It was a tough process [because] I was playing the best football of my life,” Demus said. “It made me look at things differently and attack the game harder.”

Before the injury, Demus was considered a mid-round NFL draft pick by several experts. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Demus the ninth best wideout in the 2022 draft class.


Demus had built a special connection with redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. But the quarterback was honest with his top target after the injury and told Demus, “Bro, I think it’d be better for you to come back and have one more year.”

Maryland redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, right, told wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. left, “Bro, I think it’d be better for you to come back, and have one more year.”

Demus had already established himself as one of the best wideouts in program history, ranking 12th in career receiving yards (1,775) and sixth in touchdowns (13). He knows he could’ve been drafted despite the injury, but thought Maryland — which defeated Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl in December — was building something special. So, he decided to come back.

“I felt like we could do more,” said Demus. “I was talking to [Tagovailoa] and [junior receiver] Rakim [Jarrett]. Coach Locksley was open arms for me to come back [and] made the decision a lot easier.”

With Demus back, Maryland enters the 2022 season with one of the nation’s best receiving corps. It features Jarrett, Florida transfer Jacob Copeland and redshirt senior Jeshaun Jones, who is also returning from a season-ending leg injury. But Demus “was the alpha,” Jarrett said.

“Getting him back is amazing because that’s another person secondaries have to worry about,” said Jarrett, who had 829 yards receiving last year.


Locksley said it has been great to see the No. 7 back on the field, as Demus is considered an emotional leader and the heartbeat of the team.

“He just has a presence,” Tagovailoa said. “When he’s around, he brings good motivation to the receivers.”

Maryland wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. is eager to return to the field against Buffalo on Saturday, nearly a year after being carted off with a knee injury during a game against Iowa.

Demus is eager to run out of the tunnel for the season opener against Buffalo on Saturday. After Demus shouted “I’m coming back” while being carted off the field that night in early October, he was determined to be in this position, ready to go by Week 1. Locksley has repeatedly said Demus is “ahead of schedule” and expects him to play.

After Maryland’s second scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, Locksley said Demus looked good in live reps where he was tackled to the ground.

“I think if you asked me right when the injury happened [whether] he was going to be ready for the first game, I don’t think I would have said that,” Simerville said. “But I knew in his head that was always his goal, and that’s what we always push for.”

Although it’s hard for Demus to describe what it will feel like to once again walk through the underground tunnel connecting Capital One Field and the Jones-Hill House before storming onto the turf, he thinks it would be similar to his first game as a freshman.


“I’m on the cusp of going out there with my brothers again,” Demus said. “This injury taught me that I’m built for a lot of situations.”

Season opener


Saturday, noon

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 105.7 FM