As each Maryland football player walked onto the field for one of the first days of spring practice, they were met by an enthused trio of coaches giving them high-fives, roaring “let’s get it,” “let’s be great today” and “yes sir.”
Just over a week later, coaches set up two speakers by the entrance to the field and blasted rap music to get the players hyped and excited for practice.
“It’s a different type of energy they bring to the table,” defensive back Antwaine Richardson said of the new coaching staff under Mike Locksley. “That personally will trigger in my mind ... let’s be the best me, and it will make me perform at a higher rate.”
Richardson said there hasn’t been this same type of positive atmosphere in his previous three years in College Park. Quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome said the same. Things are different under Locksley and the players are loving it.
Last August, two months after the death of Jordan McNair, ESPN published an article claiming the Maryland football culture was “toxic” amidst reports of players feeling degraded in practice and training. An investigation found that the program did not have a toxic culture, but described one where “problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.” Coach DJ Durkin was reinstated, then fired a day later after widespread backlash.
Since being hired Dec. 4, Locksley has made conscious efforts to show his players that the program is now a close-knit environment, to show them he truly cares about them.
“Everything is like a family thing,” Pigrome said. “They make everybody come together, be together. We’re all as one. I feel like that’s a good way to be.”
Aside from the tone he and his staff set on the practice field, Locksley has gone out of his way to support his players as they continue to mourn the loss of their teammate.
In February, the Jordan McNair Foundation held a fundraiser at the Chipotle in College Park. Locksley not only showed up to stand by his players, but stood at the register and paid for the meals of countless students who came for the event. By the end of the evening, he had footed a $790 bill (a tribute to McNair’s No. 79).
“For Chipotle right there on Route 1 to open up the doors and do what they did to raise money and awareness for Jordan McNair, of course I would be a part of it,” Locksley said. “He was one of our own, and as the leader of the family, I needed to be there and it’s the right thing to do.”
Players took note of the gesture and it allowed them to build a trust and bond with their new coach.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Richardson said. “He wasn’t even here during the situation with Jordan, but for him to come here and still support the family, it ... showed us that he’s here to help us, help one another and basically motivate us and teach us just like we’re his sons. It’s like having another father figure around.”
And with that connection in place, the Terps are developing as a new unit as they get ready for the Spring Game on April 27 and the new season to come.