Seven players opt out of Maryland football’s season, including QB Josh Jackson
Quarterback Josh Jackson directs downfield blockers during Maryland football's 20-17 loss to Temple at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Sept. 14, 2019. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)
Throughout the college football world, schools have been grappling with how to approach the 2020 season. Some drove head first into voluntary workouts before seeing them cancelled due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. Others have taken a more cautious approach.
As the season approaches, though, attention has shifted towards the players. Student-athletes from the Pac-12 threatened to hold out from the season last week. A larger national statement followed suit. And, across numerous Power Five teams, individuals have started to declare their intent to sit out the campaign.
Things are no different in College Park. Despite Maryland football beginning formal practices Friday, the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has continued to impact coach Mike Locksley’s plans. The second-year head coach announced that seven players are holding out for the 2020 season, including quarterback Josh Jackson.
The other holdouts are defensive lineman Jalen Alexander, offensive linemen Austin Fontaine and Johnny Jordan, defensive back Vincent Flythe, linebacker TJ Kautai and tight end Chig Okonkwo.
“We’re in complete support of each and every one of their decisions for their own individual reasons, and we’ll continue to support those guys the best we can,” Locksley said.
Jackson’s decision looms largest, as he was set to compete for the starting role under center for the second year running. The former Virginia Tech transfer appeared in 10 games last season, throwing for 1,274 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Terps are now thinner behind center, as redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre and sophomore transfer Taulia Tagovailoa are Maryland’s only other scholarship quarterbacks. Locksley’s squad also has three walk-ons.
“Josh Jackson has probably played his last football game,” Locksley said. “He was a valuable member of our team, and he brought a lot of things to our program from a leadership standpoint in how he did his business, so I’m proud of him being able to make a tough decision like he’s made.”
Beyond that, Fontaine and Jordan were set to be starters along the offensive line, while Okonkwo — who is holding out for medical reasons — was in line to start at tight end. Okonkwo caught 19 passes for 201 yards as a sophomore, scoring two touchdowns. He was named to the 2020 John Mackey Award Watch List on July 17.
Flythe appeared in eight games last campaign, racking up three tackles and a pass deflection while platooning on special teams and as a reserve cornerback. Alexander, a former three-star recruit from Chesapeake, Virginia, made one appearance in 2019, tallying one tackle in the Terps’ season opener against Howard.
Meanwhile, Kautai — the No. 7 JUCO inside linebacker in the nation, per 247Sports — linked up with Locksley’s squad after spending one year at Independence Community College in Kansas. Kautai made 32 tackles and had 1.5 sacks in eight games last season.
These decisions forced a number of personnel changes for Locksley’s squad. Linebacker Kameron Blount and defensive end Tyler Baylor switched to tight end, while wide receiver Isaiah Hazel shifted to safety.
“There’s going to be situations that may come up where everybody’s going to have an opportunity to play,” defensive coordinator Jon Hoke said. “So you have to do a good job of developing your depth and keeping your scheme relatively broad from the standpoint that everybody can execute it.”
This story has been updated.