COLLEGE PARK — Maryland safety Denzel Conyers was playing a game of "Madden NFL 17" with a cousin two weeks ago when he heard the voice of one of the athletic department's compliance officers, about to give him information about his waiver request for a sixth year of eligibility.
"At first I was a little nervous because he had this like monotone voice," Conyers said Thursday. "Once he said, 'The NCAA ruled in your favor. They approved you for a sixth year,' I just went crazy. Every emotion imaginable. I was excited. I dropped my phone. I started crying.
"It was just a beautiful moment in my life."
It was a much different feeling than the one he had Sept.17. In the third quarter of what turned out to be a 30-24 double-overtime win at Central Florida, Conyers tore the ACL in his right knee while making a tackle, one of a career-high eight he had in the game.
Conyers, who had torn the ACL in his left knee while in high school in Gulfport, Fla., knew exactly what had happened. But given that he had several young nephews among the "20 or so" family and friends watching him play live for the first time since he left home, Conyers was mostly stoic.
"I knew from the pop in my knee. I had felt that feeling before," Conyers said. "It wasn't necessarily depression. It was like, 'I know what I've got to do to fight back and recover.' My family was there. They hadn't seen me in a few years play. I said to the trainer, 'I'm going to walk off this field on my own power.'"
Since his nephews were aspiring football players themselves, Conyers didn't want them to see or feel his pain.
"I'm going to show them my way of being a man," Conyers said.
What helped Conyers during the lengthy rehabilitation process was going through it with fellow senior William Likely III, who three weeks later sustained a similar ACL injury in a home loss to Minnesota. After their respective surgeries, the two defensive backs spent the next few months pushing each other to get back on the field.
"Will's someone I consider to be one of my better friends in life," Conyers said. "If he was doing 10 reps, I wanted to do 11. If he was coming in to get extra stretch, I wanted to get extra stretch. As friendly competitors, we just made the most of it, made the whole recovery process fun."
As long as he continues to progress in his recovery, the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Conyers will likely be back in his starting position as the last line of Maryland's defense — the position in which he was starting to finally feel comfortable last fall after playing linebacker in 2015.
Given some of the problems that Conyers has experienced — aside from the injury and academic struggle that postponed the start of his college career, he also lost an uncle he considered a father figure to cancer shortly before coming to Maryland — the positive news from the NCAA seemed to almost break the pattern.
"I acknowledged the faults that played a part in my life; academically that was on me," he said. "The injury was part of the game, things happen in football. … I believe in this catapult theory. I'm a man of God, and I believe God pulls you back, whether you're ready for it or not, and at some moment in time he's going to shoot you forward to all the success and blessings he has waiting for you."
That Conyers received a sixth year of eligibility was certainly good news for second-year Maryland coach DJ Durkin, who figured that he needed to replace defensive backs Conyers, Likely and Alvin Hill, who started every game last season at cornerback as a senior.
"Just to see the look on his face when he got that news, that's what you coach for, that's what you do it for. So we're very excited for him," Durkin said last week.
The anticipated return of Conyers for preseason camp will give Durkin and defensive coordinator Andy Buh a chance to bring the younger players along more slowly than last season, when the Terps were forced to go with either inexperienced players such as junior Josh Woods (McDonogh) or true freshmen such as Elijah Daniels and Qwuantrezz Knight.
Asked how critical Conyers might be to this year's secondary, Durkin said Thursday, "Really big, especially at that position group for us. We are and we'll continue to be very talented in that position, but we're young. Denzel's a player that provides great perspective. He's got leadership qualities about him. He's level-headed, he goes about his business the right way. He's a great guy to have in that room for those guys to look up to and ask questions of."
Conyers said Thursday he has also learned from the underclassmen such as Daniels and Knight, as well as four-star prospect Markquese Bell, who is going to challenge for playing time next season after enrolling at Maryland in January. Both Bell and freshman cornerback Deon Jones are expected to be in the rotation, if not the starting lineup.
"Being the oldest guy in the [defensive backs] room and one of the older guys on the team, I'm learning a lot from them, just appreciating the game and having fun with it, getting energy from them," said Conyers, 23.
Conyers looks at getting the extra year of eligibility as a new lease on his football life.
When asked what it would feel like to step on the field in a game again, Conyers smiled broadly.
"I will probably be feeling just happiness and joy," Conyers said. "I'll feel like a freshman again, like another opportunity of football life has been granted to me. I couldn't put it in words, but I know I'm going to play like this is bigger than me, this moment. My goal is not to let anybody down, play and enjoy every moment to the best of my ability."
When that happens, Conyers will be wearing a new jersey number (3) that has religious connotations.
"It's just like a new beginning," he said. "As a man of God, I believe in the Holy Trinity. Father-god, father-son, and the Holy Spirit. It embodies this new path and this new passion for the game."