Melvin Keihn was on Maryland football’s roster for the 2015 season, but he never got to step on the playing field.
Keihn sat out last year, per NCAA rules, after transferring from Virginia Tech, and now he’s one of the top pass-rushers the Terps have. Along with junior Jesse Aniebonam, he’ll be doing his best to replace Yannick Ngakoue, the defensive end who set Maryland’s single-season sack record before eschewing his final year of eligibility to go to the NFL.
“Yannick was definitely a great player,” Keihn said after Friday’s practice. “When I came here last year, he’s one of those guys who I definitely looked up to. After practice, me, him and Jesse [Aniebonam] would get together and work some technique, work some things, and now after losing him, me and Jesse talk every day like, ‘We’ve got to step up.’
“Yannick is a great player, but at the end of the day, I got goals to break his sack record too, so I got to keep doing practice the same as yesterday.”
After coming to America from Liberia, Keihn attended Gilman High School in Baltimore. He was selected to the Under Armour All-America game as a senior and committed to Virginia Tech, where he spent his freshman season. He appeared in 13 games and finished the year with two tackles. In August of 2015, he announced his transfer to Maryland and joined the team for fall camp. As a non-graduate transfer, Keihn was committing himself to a season away from the spotlight, where the only place he’d get to play was the practice field.
“Sitting out last year, I learned that, to play as a true freshman was fun and all, but I realized that I really wasn’t ready to play as a true freshman,” Keihn said. “But I’m also glad I played as a true freshman, because it meant transferring back home gave me a chance to take a year off without losing a year.”
Keihn noticed a distinct change once DJ Durkin’s staff came in, most notably with strength and conditioning coach Rick Court.
“When he first came in, doing winter workouts, we attacked that thing,” Keihn said. “After the first week we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this thing is not going to be easy.’ I ain’t gonna lie, I’m one of those kids, I ain’t ever puked in my life, but he made me [puke].”
The results showed. Keihn trimmed down from 9 percent body fat to 6, and from 211 pounds to 226, and called Court “The best strength coach in the country.”
“At at the same time, I’m still fast,” he said. “It’s incredible.”
Keihn’s efforts in practice haven’t gone unnoticed by Durkin. He’s been taking some reps with the first team, alternating with Aniebonam as the Terps’ pass-rushing defensive end in practice.
“Melvin just has such a high motor,” Durkin said. “He’s an effort guy. He’s got really good ability, he can run and do a lot of different things, but the No. 1 attribute is his motor. I think it’s contagious to his teammates, he’s one of the hardest workers on the team and definitely shows up every day.”
Fellow defensive end Roman Braglio echoed Durkin’s comments.
"The kid's got a motor. The kid never stops,” he said. “Amazing stamina. He's always one talking. He's pushing everything. He's a great addition to the d-line, to the team."
Now Keihn’s practicing knowing that in three weeks, he’ll get to play in a real live football game again. He and Aniebonam know the importance of their task.
“That’s one thing that me and Jesse and the [rest of] the d-line, we pride ourselves in, is getting to the quarterback,” Keihn said. “So far, it’s going well. We have a lot of work to do. It’s practice five, we’ve got hundreds more practices to go, and I’ll promise you at that first game, we gonna be ready to go. We gonna make sure we’re ready to go.”
Safety Josh Woods played high school football at McDonogh, Gilman’s chief rival, and was one of the players Keihn spoke with before coming to Maryland.
“It's great. Melvin's one of my best friends. We were best friends at Gilman even though we were rivals,” Woods said.
When one of Maryland’s coaches teases the two about their high school rivalry, Woods says Keihn is steadfast in his response.
“Melvin says, 'Nah, from rivalries to teammates, we're family now.' Every single time. If that doesn't say anything about Melvin, I don't know what does."