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Ayinde ‘Ace’ Eley looks to lead Maryland football’s linebacker room this season

After a breakout 2019 season, the junior will have an even bigger impact on the defense this year.

Ayinde Eley, Maryland football vs Rutgers Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Our summer profile series is back and we’re previewing Maryland football one position group at a time.

Maryland football looks to continue its rebuild in 2020 under head coach Mike Locksley, though it’s sure to be an unusual season — if played — due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve previewed the wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks, and now we’re looking at linebackers. I gave a preview of the position Monday, and today we’ll start with Ayinde ‘Ace’ Eley.

Ayinde ‘Ace’ Eley, LB, No. 16

Height: 6’3
Weight: 226
Year: Junior
High School: Good Counsel
Hometown: Silver Spring, Md.

2019 stats: 79 tackles (44/35), 4 TFL, 2 FR, 1 INT, 3 PD, 0.5 sacks

Career stats: 92 tackles (51/21), 4 TFL, 3 FR, 2 INT, 4 PD, 0.5 sacks

The background

Eley played both sides of the ball in high school at Good Counsel, taking snaps at wide receiver in addition to outside linebacker.

The four-star recruit was ranked by the 24/7 Sports Composite as the No. 22 outside linebacker in the nation and the 10th-best player in the state. He received offers from the likes of Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and West Virginia, among others, but committed to Maryland on April 9, 2016.

The Silver Spring, Maryland, native took a redshirt season as a freshman in 2017. Though he only started one game the following year, he contributed 13 tackles, a fumble recovery, interception and pass breakup.

But it was under first-year head coach Mike Locksley in 2019 that he really began to have a major impact for the Terps.

He’s on pace to have a monster season

Though he was recruited as an outside linebacker out of high school, Locksley played Eley at the weak side inside linebacker spot last season.

Eley was a breakout star for the Terps in 2019. Despite only starting nine games and appearing in 11, he was second on the team with 79 tackles behind Keandre Jones. He led Maryland with two fumble recoveries and also posted five pass breakups, four tackles for loss, an interception and half a sack.

He got better and better throughout the season and became a key cog in the Terps’ defense. In the first game against Howard, Eley had a career-high six tackles. The following week against Syracuse, he set a new career high with seven tackles and had a fumble recovery in the first quarter.

Less than a month later, Eley had an incredible game against Rutgers with a game-high and career-high 12 tackles. He also picked up an interception, which he returned 39 yards to put Maryland on the Rutgers second-yard line and one play shy of a touchdown. And he continued to impress throughout the year to earn Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors.

All signs point to Eley taking a full-time starting role next season, most likely again inside. With both Jones and Isaiah Davis gone, Eley is without a doubt the best linebacker returning on Maryland’s roster, so he’s sure to play an even bigger role and be one of the most important pieces of the defense.

He’ll emerge as a leader on and off the field

Anyone who’s spent time around Eley is immediately drawn to his infectious energy. He is one of the most enthusiastic players on this team, known for lifting his teammates up with a blend of humor and motivation.

After nearly every practice last season, Eley would challenge other players to race him. He wanted to prove he was the fastest on the team and push his teammates to work harder. Whenever running back Javon Leake got set to take a kick return last season, Eley would hype him up and say, “I’ll meet you at the end zone, I’ll meet you at home.”

Last season, Jones became the clear vocal leader for not only the linebackers room and the defense, but for the entire team. He was often the person players turned to for pregame speeches, calling players’ only meetings and bringing everyone together as a group. Safety Antoine Brooks was known for leading the defense with his play on the field as well.

With both off to the NFL, someone needs to step up to lead the defense, and Eley, who teammates describe as an “all-time competitor,” is a clear choice.