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Altercation between Maryland football players breaks out at practice in wake of Durkin drama

In the wake of University of Maryland football coach DJ Durkin's brief reinstatement Tuesday, discord in the football program erupted in an altercation between team players.

Matthew Barber, a 21-year-old backup punter, who has spoken out against the culture of the program, said he was assaulted at the end of practice Tuesday by a fellow player who supported Durkin.

The player he accused, punter Wade Lees, acknowledged on Twitter that he had been in an altercation with Barber but disputed Barber’s characterization of the conflict.

Maryland athletic director Damon Evans said in a statement: “We take any matters involving physical altercations extremely seriously. We are talking with the players involved and will take appropriate actions based on the facts.”

Barber, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., said word had gotten around on the team that he was a “whistle-blower” who talked to investigators about problems on the team. When Durkin returned to practice Tuesday to watch the team practice, his supporters on the team felt emboldened and began taunting Barber, he said. Some mocked and insulted him, while others threw footballs at him, Barber said.

Toward the end of the practice, Barber said, Lees attacked him, attempting to punch him in the face. While the two teammates were fighting, others intervened, trying to break up the fight and grabbed Barber’s arms behind his back, he said. That allowed Lees to punch Barber repeatedly in the face, leaving him with a black eye, needing multiple stitches on his forehead and a dislocated shoulder, Barber said.

“My jersey was bloody,” Barber said. “I had blood all over my hands.”

Lees wrote in a statement on Twitter that “the altercation had nothing to do with Coach Durkin’s reinstatement.”

“The reports about the altercation between me and Matt Barber are far from the truth. There are many inaccuracies in the way he portrays that day,” Lees posted on Twitter. “I have never tried to force my opinions on someone else. I have over 100 teammates that can back me on that.”

He did not respond to requests for comment.

Several other Maryland players posted on Twitter that they back up Lees’ account.

Oseh Saine, a defensive lineman, wrote that Barber is “lying out his mouth, this altercation had nothing to do with the coach Durkin situation... . There were many witnesses and wade has the total support of everyone here.”

Durkin was fired by University of Maryland President Wallace Loh on Wednesday, one day after the university system’s Board of Regents reinstated the embattled coach.

The altercation happened around 6 p.m. Tuesday as practice was ending, according to Barber. Barber said he was treated by the athletic trainers for his injuries, and was interviewed by a campus police officer.

Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas, a spokeswoman for the University of Maryland police, said the officer was alerted to the altercation at about 6:15 p.m.

“The officer talked to both parties involved and a witness,” Hoaas said in an email. “It was determined that both parties got into a verbal argument that turned physical. One of the students was treated by on-site athletics staff for his injuries. The other student sustained minor injuries, but did not seek medical attention.”

The University of Maryland Police Department said there was video of the fight and officers were investigating.

Barber said he has “many mixed emotions” after being attacked. “I’m annoyed, frustrated, upset, irritated,” he said.

When he spoke to The Sun on Wednesday evening at his lawyer’s offices, Barber’s arm was in a sling and his head was bandaged.

Malcolm P. Ruff, a lawyer at the firm of Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, which is representing Barber, said his client was targeted over his whistle-blowing.

“This young man had the courage to stand up,” Ruff said. “He became a target.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Don Markus and Talia Richman contributed to this article.

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