Ralph Friedgen inherited a Maryland football program in 2001 that hadn’t recorded back-to-back winning seasons for a decade and a half. He instantly turned the program around, reaching three straight bowl games on two separate occasions during his 10 year coaching career.
It took time for Maryland to get back to sustained success. Four coaches and 13 seasons after Friedgen’s final campaign, the Terps have finally strung together three consecutive years of bowl eligibility after more than a decade of mediocrity.
Maryland’s seniors are the players at the center of that turnaround.
“This class definitely has a bunch of guys that got on the train before we became a team that’s going to three straight bowl games,” coach Michael Locksley said. “They got on board with the vision of where we wanted to take the program and really bought into all the things that we’ve tried to do to build our program.”
The Terps finished a season with a record above .500 just once since they joined the Big Ten in 2014 when the class committed to Locksley. The recruits joined a Maryland squad that came off a 3-9 campaign in Locksley’s first year at the helm.
After a pandemic-shortened 2020, Maryland has compiled a 21-15 record over the past three seasons with its now-veterans paving the way for the turnaround of the program. Those players have seen growth from the moment they arrived in College Park.
“When I got here there was little to none player-led leadership, but then that was something that [the coaches] instilled, something they grew, something they took time to show us how to do, to be an effective leader,” defensive back Tarheeb Still said.
Still has been key to Maryland’s defensive improvement since becoming a full-time starter his freshman season. The Terps’ secondary has allowed less passing yards per game each season since 2021.
Taulia Tagovailoa transferred to Maryland in 2020 after one season as a backup at Alabama. He’s led the Terps’ offense every season since joining, becoming their most accomplished quarterback in program history and one of the main reasons Maryland achieved bowl eligibility for three straight seasons.
“It’s a blessing to see the progress from where we was to where we are now,” Tagovailoa said. “The expectations for a Maryland football team is high now, which is good. I think it’s all a blessing and it’s a testament to coach Locks and all the coaches over here.”
Tagovailoa’s collegiate career is almost at its end. His final home game on Saturday against No. 2 Michigan will be his last chance to play at home for a program he said he’s built great relationships at.
“I’m forever grateful and thankful for everything that we’ve been through together,” Tagovailoa said. “A special group of senior guys that I’m gonna be able to walk on the field for the last time, the last home game with.”
Saturday represents Maryland’s senior class’ final time walking out the tunnel at SECU Stadium. But it’s not the last game that group will play together. They’ve still got a regular season finale at Rutgers, and then one more bowl game to cap off their careers together — one that encapsulates the impact they’ve had on the program.