Maryland senior quarterback Josh Jackson is among six players who have opted out of the 2020 college football season, head coach Mike Locksley said Friday.
Offensive linemen Austin Fontaine and Johnny Jordan, two projected starters, have also opted out, as well as sophomore defensive end Jalen Alexander, sophomore defensive back Vincent Flythe and junior linebacker T.J. Kautai, a junior college transfer.
In addition to the player opt-outs, Locksley said junior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo will be held out of the 2020 season because of a “medical condition.”
“We’re in complete support of each and every one of their decisions, for their own individual reasons,” Locksley said before the team’s first preseason practice. “We’ll continue to support those guys as best we can. Some guys may be exhausting eligibility. Those things are still a big question because the NCAA hasn’t necessarily ruled on those things and others we expect to return once they have a comfort level of where we are.”
The player opt-outs are a blow to the depth of a young team preparing to play one of the toughest schedules in college football after a 3-9 season last year.
Jackson came to College Park last season as a grad transfer from Virginia Tech. After a strong start to the season, he struggled in the team’s conference schedule. Jackson completed 47% of his passes with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also missed two games because of an ankle injury.
Locksley said Jackson will continue his education at Maryland but has likely exhausted his remaining eligibility.
Fontaine, a former consensus four-star recruit from DeMatha Catholic High School, appeared in all 12 games last season and made six starts at right guard. The sophomore was Maryland’s second-highest rated prospect in the Class of 2018 and converted from the defensive line to the offensive line during spring football last year.
Jordan, a senior, started 12 games at center over the past two seasons. Okonkwo was selected to the John Mackey Award Watch List, given to the nation’s top tight end.
Jackson’s decision to opt out will cast a larger spotlight on a position Maryland is desperately seeking improvement from in 2020. Hours after Locksley’s conference call, the team announced that sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who transferred from Alabama, received a waiver from the NCAA and will be immediately eligible. The only other scholarship quarterback on the roster is redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre, a former four-star recruit.
Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery lauded the growth, “physically and mentally,” of LeGendre, a Louisiana native.
“He’s chiseled right now, in great physical condition,” Montgomery said, “and he really took advantage of his time off and his time back in the building. But mentally is where I think that he’s worked as hard as he could. We worked on his fundamentals, we’ve worked on other things that coaches can help.
“But what I’m really proud about Lance right now is the fact that he’s worked on the things that you do when no one’s looking. Being in his playbook, understanding all the fundamentals of his position. But mostly understanding our offense and how it works and how he can be utilized in the offense, which gives us some more flexibility, with the ability to run, throw, understand our scheme at the line of scrimmage to get us in the best football play.”
Locksley named junior college transfers Johari Branch and Amelio Moran, as well as sophomores Spencer Anderson and Evan Gregory, as players who could fill the void of Fontaine and Jordan.
As part of directives from the NCAA to provide safeguards for student-athletes during the coronavirus pandemic, if a player opts out, his scholarship must be honored by the university. The NCAA also instructed each division to determine eligibility accommodations for players who opt out by no later than Aug. 14.
On Tuesday, Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman became the first high-profile Big Ten football player to opt out of the season because of coronavirus concerns. Bateman announced he will instead prepare for the 2021 NFL draft. Penn State’s Micah Parsons and Purdue’s Rondale Moore, both expected to be high draft picks, also announced on Thursday that they would do the same.
Maryland is set to open the 2020 season on Sept. 5 at Iowa.
Note: Locksley said sophomore defensive end Joseph Boletepeli, a transfer from N.C. State, has been granted immediate eligibility from the NCAA. ... Locksley announced that sophomore Isaiah Hazel, a former four-star recruit, has been moved from wide receiver to safety. The team has also moved sophomore Tyler Baylor from defensive line to tight end, as well as redshirt freshman Kameron Blount, who previously played linebacker.