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Receiver Dontay Demus Jr. starting to show the consistency he has craved for Maryland football

Cornerback Kenny Bennett and wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr., who have been Maryland football teammates for the past three years, begin every practice with a confidence-building ritual.

“Me and him, we get each other going every practice,” Bennett, a junior, said Tuesday, calling Demus his greatest competitor. “The first rep of every practice, me and him go against each other. It’s just really great because we are the body types that we’re going to see in a game a lot. So us getting that every single day just helps us prepare for anybody. That also helps with confidence because he’s like, ‘OK, this [opposing cornerback] is 6-2, 200, and that’s fine because I go against that every practice.’ For me, it’s, ‘This [opposing wideout] is 6-4, 200, running 4-whatever, and I go against that every day.’ So it helps us with our confidence.”

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Those lessons may help explain the season that the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Demus is enjoying for the Terps (2-2), who were scheduled to visit Michigan (2-4) on Saturday before the game was canceled. The junior leads the offense in receptions (23), yards (342) and touchdown catches (three) and joins junior Brian Cobbs as the only wideouts to start all four games this fall.

Demus ranks seventh among all Big Ten receivers in yards per game (85.5) and receptions per game (5.8). He has exceeded 100 yards in two games, including a career-high 114 yards and one touchdown in a 27-11 loss at No. 10 Indiana.

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In a season where coronavirus issues sidelined four starters, including redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jeshaun Jones and highly touted freshman wideout Rakim Jarrett, Demus has been a constant for the offense. He indicated that he anticipated these numbers from himself, saying, “Just knowing that I had to be more consistent in being an A player, always being available. No matter how the game is going, good or bad, I want to be able to make plays for [my] team.”

But Demus sidestepped the notion that he has emerged as the team’s undisputed No. 1 wide receiver.

“I embrace the role of being a role model in our room,” he said. “I’ve just got to be more consistent and show guys how to move and how to be able to work in the field and be able to make plays. I don’t want to simply be like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to make this play. I’m the leader of the room.’ I just try to make sure that everybody eats and I can be a good example.”

Demus’ modesty is a trait he has exhibited since he joined the football team at Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington as a freshman in 2014. In addition to lining up as a wide receiver, Demus asked Mike Hunter if he could play defensive back and return kicks and punts, which the coach gladly took him up on.

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“Anytime you have a guy as athletic as him, you put him in as many places as you can,” Hunter said. “ … He was always open to doing whatever he could for the team. He was always a team guy. I know it’s kind of cliché, but he was truly one of those guys that was the first one in and the last one out. You didn’t have to worry about him missing practice or anything like that.”

Hunter said one of his lasting memories of Demus occurred on Dec. 2, 2017 during a timeout with Friendship trailing Ballou in the fourth quarter of a District of Columbia State Athletic Association Class AA championship game at Georgetown.

“I kind of did my coaching thing and yelled at the team a little bit,” Hunter recalled. “I just remember making eye contact with him, and he was playing well. So it wasn’t directed at him. But we made eye contact, and the very next play, he took a 5-yard hitch 89 yards for a touchdown. It just kind of showed the type of guy that he was, that he was ready to do whatever it took to help the team.”

After a freshman year at Maryland collecting 13 balls for 278 yards in 12 games, Demus became one of five players to start all 12 games last season. He led that squad in every receiving category such as catches (41), yards (625) and touchdowns (six) and became the first sophomore in program history to catch six touchdowns since current Carolina Panthers wideout D.J. Moore had six in 2016.

Big Ten Network analyst Jeremy “J” Leman said Demus’ success shouldn’t be surprising.

“We saw what he did last year, and we knew coming in that he would have another good year,” the former Illinois linebacker said. “Despite limited action because of COVID and breaking in a new quarterback in [sophomore] Taulia [Tagovailoa], I think he has improved on where he was last year. I don’t see him as a possession guy. I see him as a big-play threat. I know that just in talking to other coaches and other analysts, they have a tremendous amount of respect for Dontay Demus and what he brings to the table.”

Demus said one of his objectives in the preseason was developing into a more consistent presence.

“I feel like my all-around game has gone up, to show [people] that I’m always going to play and have a big game because I’m always going to be there, the type of guy that makes plays downfield,” he said. “So I feel like that consistency part just had to be brought in so that I could show the coaches that I’m here and that I’m that type of guy.”

Demus’ development is on par with what second-year coach Mike Locksley had hoped to see from him.

“He was one of those guys when we arrived last year that really jumped out to me as a young wide receiver that had tremendous skill,” he said. “I think he’s right on track with what my expectations are because I’ve always felt since the Day One got here on campus that he’s one of the top receivers in our program, if not in this league. You’re starting to see his consistency show up.”

Leman said Demus fits Locksley’s preference for big receivers such as Arrelious Benn at Illinois and Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy and Cam Sims at Alabama.

“I think what I like about Demus is his ability to make contested catches, especially on the RPO slant route, which is kind of the bread-and-butter of Mike Locksley’s offenses, especially this year,” Leman, a former Illinois linebacker, said. “That’s not an easy catch to make. Some people might think that slant route is an easy one. But many times, that route is contested by a safety or linebacker, and you have to fight for it. And if you can break that tackle, you can have a big gain.”

Demus, Cobbs, redshirt sophomore Jeshaun Jones and fellow junior Darryl Jones (no relation) are among the oldest players in the wide receivers room, and Locksley said Demus has blossomed into a mentor.

“The thing I’ve been really proud about Dontay has been his development as a leader in a really young receivers room,” he said. “At a young age, being thrown into a leadership role, I think he’s embraced it. His practice habits have continued to improve with every year that we’ve been here. And how he approaches the game, I think his mental approach of wanting to be a great receiver and studying the art of being a great receiver, I see that development out of him. So I’m just really pleased with the track that he’s on, and I still think the best is ahead for him as a player.”

Being a leader among the receivers, however, doesn’t mean that Demus is the type to raise his voice.

“I’ve become more vocal toward us in the room,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that I’m a real vocal guy because I stay within myself. I would say that I’ve gotten more vocal with the guys to be able to teach them things that they didn’t know or make plays for the offense.”

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Hunter said Demus’ size, quickness and catch radius remind him of raw versions of the Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones and the Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green. Hunter said Demus harbors dreams of playing in the NFL, but is concentrating on making the Terps better.

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“What we talked about was just enjoying the process, just enjoying the game-by-game process at Maryland, and just keep doing what he’s doing, and good things will happen for him,” Hunter said. “Don’t focus on trying to make it to the NFL because then you lose sight of what you’ve got to do today. But he’s focused, and he’s doing what he needs to do, and those things will happen for him.”

RUTGERS@MARYLAND

Saturday, noon

TV: Big Ten Network or Fox Sports 1

Radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM

Line: Maryland by 8

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