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Maryland will ease OL Austin Fontaine back into lineup; Terps to wear social justice messages | NOTES

Austin Fontaine’s decision to opt back into the Maryland football program likely spawned speculation Wednesday that the sophomore offensive lineman could immediately regain the starting right guard job he was poised to claim in the offseason and shore up the offensive line.

But coach Mike Locksley gently pumped the brakes on that idea, citing a need to help the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Fontaine regain his strength and conditioning.

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“We’re taking it on a day-to-day basis,” Locksley said Thursday night. “We’ve got to make sure that he gets his weight back up, gets his strength numbers going back up, and we’ll take it on a week-to-week basis with him.”

Redshirt junior Marcus Minor is the projected starter at right guard, but started 10 of 12 games last year at right tackle. That position is currently occupied by sophomore Spencer Anderson, who made one start last fall.

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Fontaine, who started six of the Terps' last eight games at right guard and was a member of a front that helped the offense rush for 169.4 yards per game, could be reinserted at right guard, and Minor could return to right tackle. Or Minor and Anderson could remain at their positions, and Fontaine could provide depth at right guard or left guard, where junior transfer Johari Branch is penciled in as the starter.

Locksley said he met with Fontaine a couple weeks ago to discuss his desire to rejoin the team.

“He feels very comfortable with where we are with our protocol and how we’ve handled things from a safety standpoint,” he said. “Obviously, with him being going for so long, the conditioning piece as well as maintaining his strength and his weight, we’re gradually increasing in bringing him back. He participated in practice this week, putting him on the scout team as part of his transition back, and we’re excited to have him back with us.”

Committed to social justice

A couple hours before Locksley spoke to the media, the university announced that the football players would have the option in Saturday’s season opener at Northwestern at 7:30 p.m. to replace their names on the backs of their jerseys with expressions of solidarity such as “Equality,” “Unity,” “Justice,” and “Empathy.” They also can wear warmup shirts with similar words and have a “One Terp” decal applied to their helmets to raise awareness about social justice.

“Having an athletic department that supports us and allows us to showcase these initiatives is huge for me and my teammates,” junior wide receiver Brian Cobbs said in a statement released by the school. “We have a lot of thoughts and opinions that we want to express. Being heard is the most important thing because many times student-athletes don’t feel like they are being heard and being able to use these platforms and connect with everyone is really important.”

Locksley voiced his approval for the idea, saying, “I’m proud of our players that they’ve taken the lead on this and the fact that they want to be part of the solution, not just part of the problem.”

Making a statement?

Maryland has made a recent habit of lodging significant wins early in respective seasons.

In 2017, that team upset No. 23 Texas, 51-41, in the season opener. The following year, the Terps beat the Longhorns, 34-29, in another opener. And last fall, the team walloped No. 21 Syracuse, 63-20, in the second game of the season. So is Saturday another chance to make a statement?

“Not so much a statement as it is going out and showing that we’re prepared to take the next step as we build this program and continue to build the foundation in which we hope to create the type of championship football that we will play,” Locksley said. “Obviously, the first game is always a great test because you go through the rigors of training camp, which was modified for us this year, and as I always like to say, that first game is like Christmas. It’s full of surprises in terms of who you really are because sometimes you don’t get to gauge it in scrimmage situations or practice.”

Extra points

>> Locksley once again declined to name either redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre or sophomore transfer Taulia Tagovailoa the starting quarterback for Saturday. “As I said, it’s Lance Tagovailoa,” he quipped.

>> Locksley said he anticipates that every eligible player will be available for the game at Northwestern despite coronavirus concerns. “As we speak today, that is my expectation, yes.”

>> Locksley announced that fifth-year senior running back Jake Funk, senior safety Antwaine Richardson and Branch will be team captains for Saturday’s game.

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