Freshman Lorenzo Harrison has been Maryland football’s most effective running back this season, and it’s a trend that continued in the Terps’ 28-17 victory over Michigan State on Saturday night.
Dodging Spartans defenders throughout the game, Harrison rushed 17 times for 118 yards and one touchdown, a performance that earned the DeMatha Catholic High School product his first Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor.
But in Tyser Tower at Maryland Stadium on Tuesday for one of the team’s two weekly media availability sessions, no reporters prepared to ask Harrison about his success. Coach DJ Durkin hasn’t made Harrison available to speak to the press all season. In fact, none of the freshmen have spoken publicly since media day Aug. 16.
Shielding freshmen from the media is a common practice across the college football landscape, so Durkin’s policy isn’t surprising. But with a class that’s made significant contributions for the Terps, who sit one win away from bowl eligibility entering Saturday’s game at Indiana, making these players available to the media could have a variety of benefits.
Maryland fans like reading stories about breakout performers, and two players who have warranted attention so far this season arrived in College Park this fall. Media outlets have still pursued these stories, covering the triumphs of players such as Harrison and quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, but the articles lack the voices of the actual subjects.
Through seven games, Harrison leads the Terps in carries (65), yards (502) and touchdowns (five) and is on pace to break the school’s freshman single-season rushing record, which former running back LaMont Jordan set in 1997. Then there’s Pigrome, an electric athlete who’s shown flashes of brilliance this year, most notably in the Terps’ game with Central Florida on Sept. 17. After replacing injured quarterback Perry Hills in double overtime, he won the game on his first snap, avoiding several Knights defenders before trotting into the end zone for a 24-yard score.
Each of these players have been the focal point of the Terps at times this season, so they should be able to answer questions about their performances.
For senior running back Kenneth Goins Jr., the freshmen’s impacts have been a surprise. He redshirted his first year and said many players in his class did the same.
“It’s pretty amazing to see that they can come in right away and play,” Goins said. “Just like ‘You were in high school, like, seven months ago, and now you playing against college people.'”
When Goins was a rookie, it wouldn’t have made sense to speak with him and his fellow first-year players because they weren’t on the field.
But this year is different, as Durkin said 12 to 15 freshmen have played significant snaps. It’s rare to have this many first-year players contributing, he admitted, but Durkin added they’re playing at a high level and “don’t look out of place.”
“This playing time is valuable moving forward,” Durkin added. “We’re rotating guys at every position. That’s how you build a program the right way.”
Preparing for the future doesn’t appear to be a potential problem for Durkin, who’s already garnered praise for his recruiting ability. The Terps have one five-star recruit — defensive end Joshua Kaindoh — five four-star players and 19 commits overall for 2017, a combination good for the nation’s 13th-best recruiting class, according to 247Sports. Ohio State and Michigan are the only Big Ten teams ranked higher.
“The name and playing time,” running back Ty Johnson said of highlights in the recruiting process. “That’s what it comes down to a lot of the time.”
Potential recruits want to see freshmen play because that signals a chance to contribute right away. They’ve seen that with this Terps team, but making freshmen available to speak to the media will also prove their roles won’t differ in any way from those of older teammates.
This tactic will require the rookies to answer some tough questions, such as ones about Harrison’s fumble against Michigan State and Pigrome’s ineffective outing in the Terps’ 31-10 loss to Minnesota, and it’s reasonable to think first-year players may not handle the situations well.
Still, these players can provide valuable insight into a team that’s had success in Durkin’s first season.