Before Maryland football’s Javon Leake catches a kickoff, looks for a crease that his teammates have created for him or sprints into the endzone, the junior running back receives extra motivation from his teammates.
During one hot day during summer camp, linebacker Ayinde Eley, who is a member of the kick return unit and one of Leake’s closest friends on the team, turned around to Leake prior to the kick return practice rep and told him “I’ll meet you at the end zone, I’ll meet you at home.”
The saying, sometimes referred to as a “house call,” has now been adopted by the entire special teams unit, galvanizing Leake and the rest of the squad to produce two touchdowns in the past five games and give the Terps some much needed scoring production.
“It’s kind of like ‘I trust you. I’m going to block for you — just go ahead, I’ll meet you in the end zone,’” Leake said. “It just kind of gives us motivation before the kickoff.”
Since the mantra materialized this past summer, Eley carries on the tradition, reminding Leake to take it home on every repetition and return opportunity.
“I tell him when you get home, leave the door open for me when I get there,” Eley said on Nov. 2. “He has a knack for returning kicks and makes it look easy. So it’s just my job ... I’ve got to get my block to get him to the end zone, because I know that just a little bit of seam and he can take it.”
After just one kick return touchdown in 27 attempts in the past two seasons, Leake has housed two of his 20 attempts for touchdowns this season — one against Rutgers on Oct. 5 and another this past weekend against No. 14 Michigan where Eley picked up a crucial block against the Wolverines’ kicker to help his teammate put six points on the board.
With his special teams touchdown coming against Michigan on Saturday, the Greensboro, North Carolina, native tied former Terp Torrey Smith for most kickoff return touchdowns (3) in program history.
“I used to watch all the GOATs, kick returners that were here — Will Likely, Ty Johnson, Torrey Smith,” Leake said after the game. “I looked up to those guys and just tried to picture myself doing it before I got here — and its actually turned out well.”
The Terps haven’t recorded a win since Oct. 5 and their offense has fluctuated, but Leake has provided a spark as the lead back with Anthony McFarland Jr. recovering from a high-ankle injury and as a returner.
While the junior running back seen 75 carries for 581 yards and seven touchdowns, he also is tied for the most kick return touchdowns in the FBS this season.
“Javon the last three to four weeks has been one of our most consistent players,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “He’s made plays for us as a running back, he’s made plays for us as a returner... I’ve been really pleased with how he’s matured this season, to where he’s become one of our best players.”
With his playmaking ability on full display the past few games, Leake could see an even bigger workload, including touches as a punt returner, according to Locksley. But whether it is on the kicking or punting return team, Leake admits that scoring and providing for his team is a unique feeling.
“I feel like I didn’t let my teammates down — they blocked as hard as they could for me,” Leake said. “I’m just rewarding them with a touchdown so I always celebrate with them first because I know without them I couldn’t have done it.”