Maryland youth faces first tough road test

Daniel Gallen
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times
Young Maryland players getting ready for first trip to West Virginia.

Maryland's younger players have seen it on TV, heard the stories from the older players and have dealt with crowd noise piped into practice. But they know there's no perfect recreation of walking into Milan Puskar Stadium packed with 60,000 fans to face West Virginia.

After playing the first three games of the season at Byrd Stadium, the Terps hit the road for the first time this year to face the Mountaineers in a rivalry matchup that will be an eye-opening experience for some of the team's young skill position players who have taken on bigger roles in recent weeks.

"When we get out there and we go on offense for the first time, the atmosphere is probably going to be crazy," freshman wide receiver D.J. Moore said. "So after the first play when I get through it, I'll probably be OK."

Maryland hasn't traveled to Morgantown, W.Va., since 2012, when the Terps, almost four-touchdown underdogs, suffered a 31-21 loss to the Mountaineers. In 2013, the teams met in Baltimore and Maryland won in a 37-0 rout. And last season, West Virginia came out on top, 40-37, thanks to a field goal as time expired.

Former Maryland defensive tackle A.J. Francis shared a story about being spit on by an older woman when the Terps visited West Virginia in 2010, and the hostility and intensity of the crowd is something unique to many of the team's younger players.

"I heard a few [stories]," freshman tight end Avery Edwards said. "I hear they love football. They love the environment up there. I've heard a few, but I don't want to say anything specific."

Outside linebacker Jefferson Ashiru was on the sideline at Milan Puskar Stadium with Connecticut when the Huskies played West Virginia in 2011 and remembered the fans chanting "Bruuuuuuce" for current Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin, who had 1 1/2 sacks and a safety in a 43-16 Mountaineers victory. Ashiru is looking forward to the opportunity to play in front of the hostile crowd again this weekend.

"You've got to go out there and have fun," Ashiru said. "At the end of the day, they're just up in the stands and we're out on the field, so we've got to do what we've got to do on the field."

Coach Randy Edsall has been playing crowd noise at Maryland's practices this week to get the Terps prepared for Saturday. Running back Brandon Ross started in the 2012 matchup at West Virginia, while running back Wes Brown, wide receiver Levern Jacobs, kicker Brad Craddock, safety Anthony Nixon, cornerback Sean Davis, right guard Andrew Zeller and defensive end Quinton Jefferson all appeared, with plenty more players watching from the sideline.

The focus turns to making sure the younger players who have taken on larger roles are prepared for what's both on the field and in the stands. In the first practice with the crowd noise, Edwards said he got butterflies.

"I think it was good to kind of get that out of my system," Edwards said. "I don't know if it'll really hit me until I walk out onto the field or run out onto the field and all the boos start coming in. Hopefully when that happens, that'll hit me and I'll be over that.

Said Moore: "It's kind of annoying, but we had to work through it. So that was good."

This weekend's road matchup is the latest the Terps have had their road opener since 2011, when the Terps played their first four games at home and didn't travel until Oct. 8. And with much of the team's success hanging on the younger players' abilities to contribute, it also hinges on their ability to adjust to hostile environments.

And West Virginia provides a perfect proving ground.

"It's just a matter of, you go and stay in the moment in terms of what you're doing and stay focused," Edsall said. "That's all. You worry about what goes on between the lines. You don't worry about what's outside the lines."


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