Antwaine Richardson and Jake Funk, two of the oldest players on the Maryland football team, remember their welcome-to-college-football moments vividly.
An early enrollee who joined the program in January 2016, Richardson waltzed into his first workout that month with the kind of bravado typically found in rookies. Despite sitting out his senior year at Atlantic Community High School in Delray Beach, Florida, because of a torn ACL, he still thought he could keep up with his newest teammates.
“I thought I was in shape,” Richardson, a fifth-year safety, said with a laugh. “But they let me know that you had to come with a different type of intensity for the first college workout. … It was high intensity. The coaches were yelling just to pump up the players and stuff like that, and things were moving so fast for me because I was just coming out of high school and hadn’t played football in a year. So just getting back in the swing of things was a little bit different.”
Another early enrollee, Funk said his introduction took place a few months later, but was just as jolting when he tried to block former teammate Jermaine Carter, now a linebacker for the Carolina Panthers.
“He ran me over so fast that he lifted me off my feet and planted me into the ground,” Funk, a running back, said with a smile. “I still remember that to this day. I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve never had that happen to me before.’”
Richardson and Funk are part of a seven-member senior class that will take the field at Maryland Stadium in College Park one final time when the Terps (2-2) welcome Rutgers (2-5) on Saturday at noon. Defensive lineman Cherokee Glasgow, center Johnny Jordan, kicker Tyler Rockhill, tight end Zach Roski and inside linebacker Shaq Smith will join Funk and Richardson as honorees.
Unlike previous Senior Day celebrations, coronavirus restrictions will prevent family members and fans from paying tribute to the seniors. Then again, the unusual and unpredictable have been the standards for a year punctuated by a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on college sports.
“It’s been a roller coaster, that’s for sure,” Jordan said. “I never could have imagined my senior year going like this at all.”
Earlier in the year, the seniors had braced themselves for the possibility of no season after the Big Ten had canceled football on Aug. 11. But after programs in other conferences began to play games, the league reversed its stance the next month and installed an abbreviated eight-game, all-Big Ten schedule.
Coach Mike Locksley said he has grown to appreciate the seniors’ resiliency.
“This group is one that has really shown great perseverance,” he said. “It’s a small group, but it’s one that I’ve leaned on as the leader of our program this year, a very trying year. This team kind of reflects this group’s personality. … All those guys have done a great job of being representatives of what having the DNA of a Terp is all about. So it’s definitely bittersweet, but I’m excited for what the future holds for this group.”
After getting routed, 43-3, by Northwestern in the season opener Oct. 24, Maryland won back-to-back games against Minnesota and Penn State and were poised to welcome then-No. 3 Ohio State to College Park on Nov. 14. But a COVID-19 outbreak that forced the cancellation of games against the Buckeyes and Michigan State and sidelined 23 players for a 27-11 loss at then-No. 12 Indiana on Nov. 28 upended the team’s bid for an opportunity to contend for the Big Ten championship game.
Then when coronavirus issues forced Michigan to cancel its game Dec. 5 against the Terps, their hopes to appear in the title game were officially dashed as they fell below the six-game requirement to qualify for the game (which was later reversed to allow Ohio State to compete for the title).
As disappointing as that outcome has been, the seniors said they are simply grateful for a chance to finish the regular season against the Scarlet Knights.
“I always enjoy playing the game of football with my teammates,” said Richardson, who will graduate next month with a bachelor’s in psychology after earning a bachelor’s in family science last fall. “Just being together as a family has been fun. It has been a little stressful not knowing that we were going to cancel three games of the eight. That’s the part that was stressful for me this year. But in general, it’s a good senior year.”
Funk and Jordan were two of the players absent from that game against the Hoosiers, but both said they continued to believe that they would return to the field.
“There’s definitely a part of that that can scare you because you don’t know how bad it will really get,” said Jordan, who is on pace to graduate in May with a bachelor’s in kinesiology. “The Big Ten can step in or the [Prince George’s] County Health Department can step in. … If it got too bad, they might have shut us down.”
The senior class is a unique mix of players with differing lengths of tenure at Maryland. Funk and Richardson were members of the 2016 squad that made the school’s last bowl appearance at the Quick Lane Bowl. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Smith and Glasgow, who transferred in from Clemson and Lackawanna College (Pa.), respectively.
But that group has set the tone for the team. Sophomore defensive tackle Mosiah Nasili-Kite, a transfer from Independence Community College in Kansas, credited the seniors with encouraging the underclassmen to work out and stay in shape before, during, and after the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The seniors have shown their leadership in many ways,” he said. “It’s mostly by example, coming every day to work no matter the circumstance. If you have an opportunity to work out or practice, they’re taking advantage of it, and they’re just always positive about it. So it rubs off on the rest of the team.”
The senior class doesn’t subscribe to a nickname or a slogan, preferring to stay true to their blue-collar roots, said Funk, who is enrolled in the university’s master’s program for business and management after earning a bachelor’s in kinesiology in May 2019.
“We focus more on the team rather than being able to put little groups together,” he said. “We’re all one big team, and everybody knows that.”
Although a trip to the Big Ten championship game is no longer at stake, there is the knowledge that a senior class has not walked away from a regular-season finale at home with a victory since Nov. 26, 2016, when that squad thumped – guess who? – Rutgers, 31-13. Sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa said he and the underclassmen would like to change that this weekend.
“We’ve got to send the seniors out the right way,” he said. “They’ve meant a lot to this team. They’re all great leaders, and that’s where it starts – with the older guys. They lead us.”
Jordan and his classmates would welcome that send-off.
“That would be awesome,” he said. “To go undefeated at home in your senior year, that’s huge. We only play two games, but that’s all we had to play. That would be awesome to win a meaningful game in December.”
There is no crystal ball for where the seniors’ paths will take them. But they agree that 2020 will stand out for a variety of reasons.
“I will say it was tough,” Richardson said. “We had to deal with a lot of things that we didn’t know we were going to have to deal with. … It’s an experience I will always learn from because at the end of the day, you don’t know what’s going to happen. So you’ve just got to focus on the now and just be prepared and work.”
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