As the bus carrying the Maryland football team pulled into Northwestern’s Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois, before Saturday night’s season opener between the Big Ten rivals, Jeshaun Jones, who missed all of last season because of a torn ACL in his left knee, was overcome by emotion.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I’m here. I waited a year.’ I started crying a little bit,” the redshirt sophomore wide receiver said Monday. “It was a lot. Then I got on the field, and I called my mom [Nicole Baren], and I told her, ‘I’m here.’ She made it to the game, and it was great to have her there.”
Did any of his teammates notice? “Nobody said anything, and I was glad no one did,” he said with a smile.
Jones' display was understandable considering he had not played since Nov. 24, 2018, when he capped a historic freshman campaign with 22 catches for 288 yards and seven total touchdowns, including five through the air. Set to build on that foundation, he suffered the knee injury during a practice in August.
Jones, who said his worst injury before the torn ACL was a sprained AC joint that sidelined him for the first two weeks of his senior year at South Fort Myers (Florida) High School, started Saturday and made it through the game without a setback. The showing was watered down, however, by the team’s 43-3 loss to the Wildcats (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten).
“I enjoyed every second of it,” he said. “I wish the outcome could have been different, but I definitely enjoyed being out there.”
Jones paced the Terps (0-1, 0-1) with five receptions for 37 yards, but he criticized himself for not being able to haul in a pass from sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa on third-and-6 at Maryland’s 44-yard line with Northwestern leading 17-3 midway through the second quarter.
“I wish I could have been a little bit more productive for the offense,” he said. “I dropped a third-down ball that I’ve got to have. It’s cool, but it’s a blessing just to be back out there and have the opportunity. But I’ve got to get better.”
Concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic also forced Jones to practice social distancing with his mother after the game.
“I didn’t even give her a hug or anything,” he said with a smile. “So it was kind of tough, but just the fact that she got to be there, she was with me when I had surgery. So she’s really seen this process from Day One.”
Thankful for tight turnaround
Sunday would normally have been an off day for the Terps players. But because their home opener against Minnesota (0-1, 0-1) is scheduled for Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Maryland Stadium in College Park, the players practiced Sunday and began immediately studying the Gophers.
The lack of time to dwell on the loss to Northwestern is actually a blessing in disguise, according to junior inside linebacker Ayinde Eley.
“We can’t go into the next game still thinking about the game that we just played,” he said. “Everything that happened in that game happened and is over with.”
Coach Mike Locksley felt similarly, adding, “Not a lot of time to necessarily linger or think or put too much of an onus into what happened on Saturday. Obviously, the goal is to get things corrected from Saturday, and we were going to do that yesterday, while at the same time, flip the page. So not a lot of time was spent necessarily on hanging onto what took place because our goal is to get to neutral again. That game is over. We moved to neutral. We reset, and now we’re getting ready for Minnesota.”
Fourteen months after tearing an ACL and sitting out the 2019 season, Durell Nchami is dealing with another injury.
The redshirt sophomore started at outside linebacker, but suffered what Locksley described as a lower-body injury in the first quarter. Nchami did not return, and Locksley said he underwent an MRI on Monday morning.
“There was no damage to any of the ligaments,” Locksley said, adding that Nchami was regarded as one of the defense’s top pass rushers. “He’s right now on a day-to-day basis. It’s a high-level sprain. So we’re kind of day-to-day with it. We’ll know more with how he feels in the next day or two.”
>> Eley did not start against the Wildcats at inside linebacker, an honor that went to sophomore Fa’Najae Gotay. But Eley ranked second on the defense in tackles with eight and was tied for second in solo stops with four. “I feel as though I played OK,” Eley said. “I’m more focused on getting the wins. There’s definitely a lot of things I could have done better to help our team win and our defense be better."
>> Locksley singled out a trio of freshmen for their efforts on Saturday. Tarheeb Still started at cornerback and finished with four solo tackles and one pass breakup. Running back Peny Boone carried the ball five times for 30 yards, and running back Isaiah Jacobs rushed six times for 15 yards and averaged 19.3 yards on six kick returns. “Ten true freshmen played, and I want to say that 20 players saw their first college action,” Locksley said. “You’ll never hear me use the excuse of young because if you’re old enough, you’re good enough, and if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, and we’ve got some good players that we have to get playing to the standard by which we want them to play. We’re going to continue to rely on a bunch of players and develop them.”
>> Because there will be zero fans at Friday’s home opener as the state tries to limit the spread of COVID-19, the athletic department will launch an interactive pregame show called The Terps Tailgate Show hosted by local TV personalities Rob Carlin and Chick Hernandez. The broadcast will begin at 6:10 p.m. and can be watched at umterps.com or several other university-associated outlets. Jones acknowledged the strangeness of playing before a sparse crowd at Northwestern (“One whole side of the stadium was empty, and that was weird.”), but said the players will adjust. “It’s definitely going to be weird, but I don’t know, it’s football,” he said. “When we’re out there between those lines, I try to zone everything out anyway. So I feel like you’ve got to look at it kind of like practice, but it’s way more serious than practice. But it’s different because we don’t practice with music or anything like that. We’re used to going off of our team’s energy and our own juice. So I feel like that’s not going to be too tough for us.”