Andrew Stefanelli was entirely out of the limelight for Maryland football.
The walk-on fullback had contributed as a member of the kick-return team as a senior, but was going to finish his college career without a carry. So before the team’s regular season finale against Rutgers, the coaches told him if they got the ball near the goal line, they’d give him the chance to punch it in.
“I tried not to get my hopes up too much for it, just because it’s a situation thing,” Stefanelli told reporters after the Terps’ 31-13 win. “If we get on the one-yard line we might run it, but a lot of games we don’t get on the one-yard line. We don’t get close to the goal line, so we don’t need to use it.”
With 2:43 on the clock in the third quarter, Maryland got on the one-yard line. In went Stefanelli.
“When I saw the personnel, and how close we were, and the vibe Coach Bell was giving me about how much he wanted me to score, I was like, ‘This is gonna happen,’” he said.
“When I went out there I pretty much knew it was going to get called.”
The play was routine. The Terps lined up in an I-formation, which they almost never do. Stefanelli took the handoff and plunged into the end zone. It was his first career touchdown on his first career carry.
Stefanelli went back to the sideline to celebrate and tried to contain his joy. He couldn’t.
“He was all smiles,” said sophomore running back Ty Johnson. “He came to the sideline just smiling. It was a great thing to see.”
Stefanelli’s teammates mobbed him after his score. Most of them didn’t know the team even had a package for the senior fullback. His memory of the whole incident is a bit hazy.
“I kind of just blacked out. I was running back to the sideline just like, ‘I don’t know what even happened,” he said. “The play seemed like it was two hours long. I felt like I couldn’t get up. It was weird. I didn’t know what to do.”
Stefanelli, a local product out of Good Counsel High School in Olney, transferred to Maryland after redshirting one season at Temple in 2012. He played in two blowouts in his first year with the Terps, but didn’t play again until Mike Locksley took over as interim head coach following Randy Edsall’s firing in the middle of last season.
“It’s kind of hard to not be able to go out there and spill my guts like the rest of my teammates can,” he said. “So that’s been the hardest part, that I can’t put it all out there for my teammates, for my boys. But I’ve been able to motivate them while I’m on the sidelines, be energetic and not pull the team down.”
When Walt Bell came over as the Terps’ new offensive coordinator this offseason, Stefanelli’s role with the team came further into question. He’s a fullback, and Bell’s offense has no use for fullbacks. But any concerns he had were assuaged in his first meeting with the new coaching staff.
“They told me the role would be small, but I’d have a role,” Stefanelli said. “And that was pretty much it. I knew he wasn’t lying to me.”
So Stefanelli helped in practice and special teams, waiting for his opportunity. Quietly.
“He’s a good guy. He does what he’d told. He doesn’t ask questions,” Johnson said. “You tell him to jump, he doesn’t ask ‘How high?” He just does it.”
And on senior day, he finally got his big reward. As Maryland goes to a bowl game, Stefanelli’s time on offense is almost certainly over. He won’t be getting any more chances at the end zone, and his career-carries count will stay at one. But when his time as a Terp is over after this season, he’ll be able to look back on this one-yard plunge.
“Our offensive coordinator wanted me to have something special to remember,” Stefanelli said. “It was a great opportunity to do it my senior year, senior day. It’s something that I’ll never forget.”