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Heading into coach Mike Locksley’s third full year, Maryland football starting to feel culture shift

During a team meeting Thursday, Maryland junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa asked whether the coaches could step out of the room so he could address his teammates on his own. Tagovailoa, who is entering his second season with the program, emphasized the importance of sacrifice and doing more than what the coaches ask of them.

Since Mike Locksley took over the Terps’ football program in December 2018, he has instilled a player-driven culture that requires players to trust and hold one another accountable. From late-night discussions about the playbook to players-only practices, the Terps have bought into Locksley’s philosophy.

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“When we as coaches have to lead, and we have to police and we have to push, you usually can get some good play out of your team,” Locksley said. “But when it’s player-driven, that’s when you know you have a chance to be great.”

Senior defensive lineman Lawtez Rogers recalled his freshman year in College Park being a whirlwind of events. Jordan McNair’s heat-related death was a ripple effect that led to coaching turnover and reports of a toxic culture under former head coach DJ Durkin. Under Durkin, there were alleged incidents of bullying and abusive behavior by former strength and conditioning coach Rick Court.

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Court resigned in August 2018. Durkin was fired from the program in October 2018, one day after the school reinstated him from administrative leave.

Rogers noticed an immediate change the moment Locksley stepped in as head coach. Rogers said players began depending more on one another . Being that Locksley grew up in Washington, D.C., and recruited the area heavily throughout his coaching career, Rogers feels it’s been easier to relate to his coach.

“[Locksley] brings a good DMV culture,” Rogers said. “The way we work, do things, the grit, the effort, the determination [and] the chip on our shoulder. I feel like [Locksley] has brought that to this program that we didn’t have before.”

Senior wide receiver Jeshaun Jones believes Locksley has allowed the players and coaching staff to grow closer as a unit. “There’s some guys that I really didn’t talk to when I first got here,” Jones said. “They emphasize so much on the togetherness and family bond.”

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Maryland football coach Mike Locksley watches his team practice Friday in College Park.
Maryland football coach Mike Locksley watches his team practice Friday in College Park. (Gail Burton/AP)

Locksley’s philosophy of team chemistry appears to be infectious. Teammates get together at least two to three times a week for players-only practices to work on various offensive and defensive schemes, competing as if the coaching staff were watching. The players are not afraid to speak their minds and correct one another whenever they make a mistake.

“Everybody going 100% at a player-driven practice just shows you where our mindset is,” Rogers said. “You know your brothers are counting on you and you don’t want to let them down.”

At the start of training camp, Locksley, who was also the team’s interim coach for half the season in 2015, had the players move into The Hotel across the street from campus. Locksley wanted to create a bubble-type atmosphere where players can focus solely on football.

“This is the one time in our lives every year that we get to just focus totally on football,” Locksley said. “There’s no school. It’s 24 hours of football, rest, recovery, rehydration, and doing all the necessary things that we’ve got to do to get through a tough season in the Big Ten Conference.”

On the first night in the hotel, Tagovailoa and a few of the receivers got together in a room. They gathered around a mini whiteboard, drawing up plays and how they would execute them against man-to-man or zone defenses.

“Little stuff like that really goes a long way,” senior wide receiver Brian Cobbs said. “And then having the young guys with us to be able to see that and hear that, I feel like their understanding of the offense is going to be able to take them a long way.”

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