Maryland football had the honor of having a pair of cornerbacks, Deonte Banks and Jakorian Bennett, selected in April’s NFL draft. Tarheeb Still could have been the third.
But Still said he wasn’t given a first- or second-day projection by league scouts. While getting chosen anywhere between the fourth and seventh rounds would be a dream fulfilled for many college players, Still decided to return to the Terps for his senior year.
“It was something that a lot of people would have taken advantage of, but I see a bigger goal in mind, and I see that lining up here in College Park with the team we have now,” he said. “These guys are doing something special. Team success leads into individual success. So if we do what we’re supposed to do and handle our business, I’ll be more than happy with the outcome I get from that.”
Still’s decision has made folks at Maryland (3-0) happy. The 6-foot-1, 196-pound cornerback is tied with junior defensive end Donnell Brown for the team lead in interceptions with two and ranks third in total tackles with 11.
Still — who got both interceptions in Friday night’s 42-14 thumping of Virginia — and Brown are only the fifth pair of teammates at the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision level to have two interceptions each.
Coach Mike Locksley equated Still’s return to the defense to graduate student wide receiver Jeshaun Jones’ return to the offense.
“As much as getting Jeshaun back here, Tarheeb coming back for his senior year was a huge, huge deal for us, and now what I’m starting to see is the leadership out of him in terms of taking on the role of developing those younger players that are behind him,” he said. “There’s no doubt he came up with some huge plays in the game on Saturday. These are plays he’s capable of making.”
For the previous two seasons, Still covered the slot while Banks, Bennett and junior Corey Coley Jr. manned the outside cornerback spots. Still said he learned the art of preparation from Bennett and the spirit of competition from Banks.
With the departures of Banks and Bennett to the New York Giants and Las Vegas Raiders, respectively, Still has moved back to the outside role, which he played primarily in 2020.
“I would say it’s a challenge either inside or outside because you still have to line up and play good coverage, clean coverage and make plays on the ball,” Still said. “But it’s just more fun being outside because it’s something new to me again, something I haven’t done a lot since my freshman year. It just takes you back to that, and I enjoy playing outside a little bit more.”
If Still was overlooked because of Banks and Bennett, he was valued by Locksley, who compared having those three cornerbacks with 2018, when he was the offensive coordinator at Alabama and wide receiver DeVonta Smith played in the shadows of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III.
“Smitty kind of was the forgotten guy because the other guys turned pro early,” Locksley said. “Well, Heeb was a guy that we sent his stuff into the NFL and he had a draftable grade. But I don’t think it was where he would like to see it. But the people in our program know that he was as much a catalyst.”
Still energized his teammates when Virginia threatened to score on third-and-10 at the Terps’ 12-yard line with Maryland leading 21-14 at the start of the fourth quarter. Lined up against fifth-year senior wide receiver Malik Washington, Still followed Washington on a corner route to the right side of the end zone and intercepted freshman quarterback Anthony Colandrea’s pass in the end zone.
Still admitted that a younger version of himself might have been too aggressive and only had a chance to break up the pass.
“But I’ve noticed the game has slowed down, and you learn a lot and you anticipate a lot,” he said. “Like [cornerbacks] coach [Henry] Baker tells me, you can anticipate it, but don’t overplay it. Now I just know how to be cool, and when the play’s there, you have to go make it.”
As well as he played Friday night, Still said he estimates he should have four interceptions this season by now.
“I was talking to my family after the game, and I told them, ‘I know I can get a lot more. I can get my hands on a lot more passes,’” he said. “But it’s about doing your job and getting in position, and when the opportunity comes, make the play. Coach Baker tells me a lot, ‘The ball is going to come, and when it does come, just be ready.’ I tell him a lot, ‘I want to pick the ball, I want to do this, I want to do that.’ But he tells me, ‘Just stay calm.’ The situations and passes I want are going to come.”
Still has emerged as the leader of a cornerbacks group that includes fellow starter and senior Ja’Quan Sheppard, starting slot cornerback and redshirt junior Glendon Miller, and Coley, redshirt freshman Perry Fisher, and sophomores Gavin Gibson and Lionell Whitaker. Redshirt senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa chuckled when asked about throwing against Still in practice.
“Heeb is different,” he said, using Still’s nickname. “He’s a very confident player. Not only him, but we’ve got Shep, we’ve got … Corey. All those guys on defense, [junior safety Dante] Trader [Jr.], [senior safety] Beau [Brade], they’re all very aggressive players, and it gets chippy a lot, too, which brings out the competitiveness in everybody.”
Time will tell if Banks and Bennett will be the next to join J.B. Brown, Chad Scott, Dominique Foxworth, Josh Wilson and JC Jackson as top cornerbacks produced by Maryland. Still is eager to follow in their footsteps.
“I feel like I’m the next in line, but it’s not only me,” he said. “There’s also Ja’Quan and Corey. But I feel like when it’s all said and done, I’ll be one of the ones that are next.”
At first glance, the stage appeared set for a pair of undefeated teams. The Terps held up their end of the bargain, embarking on a 3-0 start for the third consecutive season and aiming for their second 4-0 opening in the past three years. They have won each of their first three games by at least 18 points for the first time since 1948. For their part, the Spartans disposed of Central Michigan, 31-7, and Richmond, 45-14. Then sexual harassment allegations emerged against coach Mel Tucker, and the university suspended him without pay. Tucker has since maintained his innocence. That backstory rolled into Saturday night’s 41-7 loss to Washington. The Terps ended a four-game losing skid to Michigan State with a 27-13 victory Oct. 1 and are seeking their first win in East Lansing since a 34-7 outcome in 1950.
Key for Maryland
The offense leads the Big Ten in yards per game (480) thanks to a third-down efficiency rate (53.7% on 22 of 41 chances) that is tied for 13th in the nation. The Terps will get tested by a Michigan State defense that leads the country against third-down conversions (18.9% success rate on 7 of 37 opportunities) and is tied for second in the Big Ten in sacks (10). “They pride themselves on being a really tough, short-yardage, goal-line team, and it shows,” Locksley said. “That’s why for us, we better be prepared.”
Key for Michigan State
Much of the scrutiny will focus on whether the Spartans can rebound in the wake of the most recent news of the university’s intent to fire Tucker with cause and Tucker’s rebuttal signaling his desire to recoup as much of the $80 million left on his contract. Locksley said he expects a motivated opponent playing with more “oomph.” “As I told our team, what we saw on tape a week ago will not be the team we face on Saturday because they’ll now have a little more time to galvanize,” he said.
Maryland (3-0) at Michigan State (2-1)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Radio: 105.7 FM