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3 of Maryland football’s defenders will wear new numbers in 2017

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Welcome to the single-digits party!

NCAA Football: Maryland at Florida International Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The football offseason is long. Maryland’s 2016 bowl game and 2017 opener are over eight months apart, and even wedging a spring game halfway through only counts for so much. Players often spend this break getting in physical shape, learning new positions and adjusting to different schemes.

For Jermaine Carter Jr., Denzel Conyers and Darnell Savage Jr., it’s also a chance to change their jersey numbers.

These numbers don’t mean much, but to an individual, they can mean a lot. They’re a key part of a player’s on-field identity, appearing in every image of the player in uniform. Changing numbers is often seen as a chance to start anew, but it’s interesting to see three defensive starters do so at once.

Carter, an All-Big Ten honorable mention linebacker in his junior season, donned No. 23 his whole career before switching to No. 1 this spring. After splitting the number with running back Lorenzo Harrison last year, Carter is now in the company of wide receiver D.J. Moore. Stefon Diggs, now with the Minnesota Vikings, wore No. 1 in Carter’s freshman season.

“Everybody wants to wear No. 1. Who doesn’t want to wear No. 1?” Carter said. “It’s my last opportunity to ever wear the number; if I was going to the next level, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to wear No. 1.”

Conyers wore No. 11 in his original senior season, which was cut short by an ACL injury in the third game of the year. Conyers was granted a final season of eligibility by the NCAA in March, but by the time he returned to the team, early-enrollee freshman defensive back Fofie Bazzie had the number. Conyers probably could have gotten it back if he wanted, but he ultimately took No. 3 for its religious and personal significance.

“It was just like a new beginning,” Conyers said. “As a man of God, it’s a blessing. I believe in the Holy Trinity. ... Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. It embodies this new path and this new passion for the game."

(Conyers’ jersey number isn’t listed on the team’s online roster, but he’s been wearing No. 3 in practice. As it stands, the Terps will have the trinity of Conyers, quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome and kicker Adam Greene wearing it.)

Savage, meanwhile, has switched from No. 26 to No. 4. He’ll be the first Maryland defender to wear the number with Will Likely gone. The two defensive backs have been close ever since Savage’s freshman year, when then-junior Likely took him under his wing, and Savage said Likely actually encouraged him to take it.

“Will’s like a big brother to me, and I learned a lot from him,” Savage said, “so I guess it was like a passing of the torch.”

All this is in addition to linebacker Shane Cockerille, who’s worn No. 2 throughout a college career that included stints at fullback and quarterback. If Cockerille is cleared academically, then Maryland’s starting linebackers and safeties will be wearing Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4. Cornerback JC Jackson, who wears No. 7, will be a nice sidekick.

Of course, none of these switches should affect any player’s performance between the lines, but number changes are always fun to keep track of. Maryland might ultimately return as many as nine defensive starters in 2017, but the unit will still have a new look.