As a player growing up in Ohio and throughout his college career at Bowling Green, Maryland football coach DJ Durkin wore the same jersey number: 44.
“That was the number I was given in the seventh grade. I liked it, so I kept wearing it,” Durkin recalled.
Considering his own loyalty, Durkin finds it amusing, if sometimes annoying, how many of his players have changed jersey numbers since he came to College Park a little more than 18 months ago.
“Honestly, I’m going to find someone and assign them as ‘the jersey coach,’” Durkin said half-jokingly during the Big Ten Media Days this week in Chicago. “It’s the biggest headache in my life.”
This year, seven players switched jersey numbers, including senior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr., who after wearing No. 23 his first three seasons switched to No. 1 for his final year.
It’s the same number junior wide receiver D.J. Moore has worn in his first two seasons at Maryland and will wear again when practice opens Wednesday.
While it’s not unusual on a team of 85 scholarship players and more than 100 overall to have duplicate jersey numbers, it’s rare to have two No. 1s, particularly two starters playing key roles.
“That’s a unique number,” Durkin said during the Big Ten’s Media Days last week in Chicago.
Carter said he decided after being Maryland’s leading tackler last season that the opportunity to wear No. 1 again wouldn’t be there if he makes it to the NFL someday.
“When you get to the NFL as a linebacker, you can only wear 40 through 59," Carter said in Chicago. “Coach Durkin just gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, and I’m appreciative of that.”
Carter said he told Moore after last season of his plans to wear No. 1.
Asked what his reaction was to his teammate’s desire to share the number, Moore said: “There was really no reaction. He works hard and he gets what he deserves. At the end of the day, I was happy for him.”
Moore said there should be no confusion, as there was last season when Carter was initially credited with a blocked punt at Penn State when the play was actually made by freshman running back Lorenzo Harrison, who recently changed from No. 23 to No. 2.
“They know there’s a 1 on defense and a 1 on offense, and we’re both playmakers,” said Moore, who led the Terps in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns and kick-return yardage last season. “Our numbers are going to be called on the field.”
Interestingly, Moore wore No. 1 when he started playing organized football but changed to No. 23 in high school. Moore said he requested No. 6 when he came to Maryland, but it had already been given to another incoming freshman, Ty Johnson.
Johnson had requested No. 24, which he wore in high school, but was told that it was taken by two upperclassmen.
“When they gave me 6, I thought 2 plus 4 equals 6, so I made a positive out of it," Johnson said.
Durkin said he often tries to talk a player out of changing a number he has worn for years.
“I try to talk the whole team out of it,” Durkin said. “I say, ‘You have a number identified as your number, why do you want to change? Keep the one we gave you when you were a freshman.’ They don’t always listen to that.”
Durkin smiled when recalling the conversation he had with Carter about the number change, similar to those he had with cornerback Darnell Savage Jr., who switched from 26 to 4 (formerly worn by Will Likely III) safety Denzel Conyers from 11 to 3 (also worn by sophomore quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome and kicker Adam Greene) and wide receiver Jacquille Veii, who went from 34 to 84.
Over the summer, quarterback Caleb Henderson went from wearing No. 2 to No. 8. Harrison changed from No. 23 to No. 2, and nose tackle Kingsley Opara switched from No. 57 last season to No. 8. Another defensive lineman, sophomore Seun Oluwatimi, jumped in and took No. 57 after being given No. 60 last year.
“They come to your office and ask you, 'Hey, Coach, how you doing?’ ” Durkin said with a smile. “They really care how you’re doing that day and ask you about the family or something and then they say, ‘Oh, by the way, can I change?’ ”
Durkin said there’s a system in place for a player to change his jersey number, starting with having been already selected as part of the team’s Champions Club, which rewards achievements and conduct on and off the field.
Yet there are also instances when Durkin allows players who’ve requested a number coming out of high school that’s being worn by an upperclassman to change when that player leaves or graduates, as happened with Savage after Likely’s departure.
Carter, who dropped seven pounds from the 235 he weighed last season to help with his quickness, said he likes how he looks in his new jersey number.
“It makes me look slimmer since there’s only one number,” Carter said with smile.
Said Johnson of Carter's new number: “It looks good on him. I can’t wait to see him on the field running around in it.”
Johnson doesn’t expect any confusion between the 6-0, 228-pound linebacker and the 5-11, 215-pound wide receiver.
“It’s two different units, offense and defense,” Johnson said. “When I say, ‘Hey, “Ace," ’ both of them might answer. We’ll see.”
In the future, a coach who likes to put his players in competitive situations might do the same when it comes to choosing their jersey numbers.
“I was thinking about putting all the numbers in a room and the guys can wrestle or fight for it, whoever comes out, just settle it that way so I don’t have anything to do with it,” Durkin joked. “I don’t know how that would go over.”