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In DJ Durkin’s 2nd year, Maryland football is ready to challenge the nation’s best

The Terps were overwhelmed against top teams last year. They’re trying to flip that script.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

This time last year, Maryland football was gearing up for its first-ever game under coach DJ Durkin. A bowl season and a full recruiting class later, the culture has shifted and everyone knows what’s expected of them.

The Terps were forced to rely on a number of inexperienced players to play large snap counts last season. With a year under their belt, Durkin will rely on those same players to help lead the football program to the next level.

Durkin and staff were able to build up depth, through internal growth, transfers and the No. 18 recruiting class for the 2017 cycle. With fall camp now in the rearview, the upset-minded Terps are set up for their season opener against the No. 23 Texas Longhorns.

“We’re miles ahead of where we were a year ago,” Maryland defensive coordinator Andy Buh told reporters Wednesday. “A lot of that has to do with the experience we gained a year ago, and a lot of that has to do with this past offseason. We’ve seen jumps and growth in all areas from every guy on our roster. A lot of it has to do with just learning how to operate.”

When a new coach comes in, it takes time to implement the culture and philosophies they bring from prior experience. When Durkin arrived in College Park, he ran a rigorous camp to get the team up to speed. Now it’s all about improving on last year’s 6-7 finish.

“We were literally just trying to come together as a team, it wasn’t so much about all the football of it,” Durkin said when camp opened on Aug. 1. “We’re building this thing for the long term and trying to build the right foundation. A lot of those steps have been put into place, and now we’re trying to take the next step.”

One of Durkin’s first tasks was changing the way the team thought. Expectations for the football team had been low in College Park in the years prior, so he went about reshaping them.

“The biggest thing as far as Coach Durkin is concerned is your motivation,” center Brendan Moore told reporters Tuesday. “He instilled a mindset into us, and honestly I think it’s helped a lot as far as just how we play, the aggressiveness with which we play and how we attack everything when it comes to practice, games or whatever we need to do.”

With the foundation in place, there’s a level of familiarity that translates throughout the roster. For the Terps, it’s no longer about how to practice, as much as why they practice. Players are learning the intricacies of the schemes instead of the simple X’s and O’s of a package.

“Mostly the first year is how to practice, installing a culture,” Moore said. “The second year is scheme and finer things. We were in our ABC’s and now we’re in our 300, 400-level classes instead of the 100s.”

The depth chart was released on Monday, and a lot of players deemed inexperienced, by last year’s standards, appear prominently on the depth chart now with early game action under their belt.

“As Coach Durkin would always say, ‘everybody is valuable,’ you know. Everybody’s valuable,” Melvin Keihn told Testudo Times when camp opened. “And people are starting to realize that it doesn’t matter what role you play, we need everybody on this team.

“After going through winter workouts and summer workouts, the focus on everybody is very sharp. I feel like that’s one thing we’re all very excited about, how focused and ready everybody is to go.”

The Terps open the season with a tough test, as they head to Austin for a noon kickoff on national television. Maryland was 0-5 against teams in the S&P+ Top 50 last season, and would like to shake that reputation early, starting with No. 23 Texas.

Moore played high school ball in Austin after moving from Hawaii when he was 7, and he’s seen more games than he can count in Darrell K. Royal Stadium. However, this will be the first game his 40-50 family members and friends will see him play on the field. With Durkin’s mindset ingrained in his thinking, the stage hasn’t phased him.

“We’ve played in a lot of big stadiums, all we got to do is execute,” Moore said. “When you go into a hostile environment ... there’s 110,000 people you can feel. But when you take it with the right mindset—‘I’m going to do my job, I’m going to execute, I’m going to do as much as I can for as long as I can’—you just don’t have to worry about anything else.”