Mike Locksley and his team’s attitude underwent a seismic shift entering the coach’s fifth season with Maryland football. Before, Locksley forbade his players from discussing championships and stayed focused on growing as a program. He felt that mindset was necessary to one day reach a level where championships were attainable.
In 2023, Locksley finally feels his team is ready to turn their attention to loftier goals.
Surrounded by reporters at Maryland’s media day last week, ahead of the team’s first day of fall camp, Taulia Tagovailoa’s declaration proved Locksley’s optimism has trickled down. The language that was previously discouraged now permeates at every level of the program.
“The expectation for us is to win the Big Ten championship,” Tagovailoa said. “That’s all we talk about around here. That’s our biggest goal. All the seniors, we want that. This whole team, we want that. Anything short is unsuccessful.”
The Terps have not come close to claiming a conference title since joining the Big Ten nearly a decade ago, but the team’s previous iterations lacked a four-year starter at quarterback, depth and versatility in offensive skill positions and the returning defensive nucleus this year’s squad should have.
Tagovailoa returns for his fourth season at Maryland as the program’s record holder in nearly every meaningful passing statistic. The luxury of experience is rare in modern college football and it’s an upper hand the Terps have over their rivals. No Big Ten quarterback has more starting experience than Tagovailoa.
A mix of returners and transfers will surround Maryland’s quarterback this year — each of whom bring deep threats on the ground and in the air.
Roman Hemby and Antwain Littleton II form a running back duo that plays to each athlete’s strengths and allows both to get valuable plays off. Hemby nearly surpassed 1,000 yards last season — a mark he hopes to eclipse this year — with 10 touchdowns. Littleton, who finished second among running backs in carries, added six scores on five yards per attempt.
“We’re in a place where we pick up each other’s slack and we hold each other accountable,” Hemby said. “We’re fresh, we’re not worn down because we know other guys can come in and do the same job, if not better.”
On the outside, Tagovailoa will throw to an almost entirely new cast of targets this season. Jeshaun Jones returns for a sixth season, but aside from him the group is composed of transfers and young players who have yet to play significant roles.
Baltimore native Tyrese Chambers is FIU’s all-time single-season leader in receiving yards and touchdowns. Kaden Prather, a former four-star recruit, joins the Terps after surpassing 500 yards in his second season at West Virginia. Returning receivers Tai Felton, Octavian Smith Jr. and Shaleak Knotts can each fill unique roles within Josh Gattis’ offense.
That depth will allow the first-year offensive coordinator versatility in his deployments in various situations, mixing and matching players to utilize their skill sets.
“We’re gonna find creative roles for all those guys,” Gattis said.
Gattis joins Maryland after a tumultuous season at Miami last year in the same role. The Hurricanes finished 5-7 with an underwhelming offense, but Maryland hopes Gattis can bring elements of what made him successful at Michigan during the three years before his stint at Miami.
The Terps will still run a “Maryland offense,” Gattis said. While some of the team’s philosophies may not change much, small adjustments have already been implemented.
The offense’s faster tempo and deeper throws have been the most noticeable differences, Hemby said. Maryland ranked fifth in the Big Ten in plays per game and sixth in passing yards per attempt last season, stats Gattis may look to improve.
But success for those units hinges on how the new-look offensive line gels. The group, which surrendered the most sacks in the Big Ten last season, lost four of five starters. Lone returner DJ Glaze will likely shift from right to left tackle. Who will fill the remaining spots is yet to be seen.
“It’s definitely a concern when you don’t have experience coming back at that position,” Gattis said.
Locksley had a five-year plan in mind when he was hired before the 2019 season. Entering that benchmark year, he believes his team has established a foundation and can meet high expectations this season.
Because of that progress, the Terps believe they can now begin to discuss championships. That’s a brand new feeling that comes with heightened expectations — ones the Terps aren’t afraid of.
“We’re not shying away from it,” Locksley said. “There’s nobody in there that’s afraid of declaring that now is the time for Maryland to compete for Big Ten championships.”