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Just a day after last spring’s NFL Draft, the mock selections for the following year started their usual trickle for the next group of possible future pro football players.

One of the few wide receivers listed on nearly all of them was Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey, an indication of how valuable analysts believe the junior with speed to spare, a winning smile and a vital place in the Terrapins‘ program could be in the future.

Right now, only the present matters.

It’s about building on back-to-back bowl appearances, perhaps even pushing Maryland into contention for its first ACC title since 2001. It’s about retreating to a dark meeting room to watch film for a half-hour after practice each day.

There are tweaks to be made, lessons to both learn and impart and an arguably overlooked team to propel forward after a series of injuries tore the Terps’ dreams asunder last year, relegating the program to a 6-7 finish and an Emerald Bowl loss.

The next level - it’s off in the distance.

“I don’t look at any of those things, not one little bit,” Heyward-Bey said. “Never been tempted to really, because you start looking at those things, you start thinking you’re better than you really are. I know I have a lot of stuff to work on. I see that every day watching film. I just like to stay grounded.”

So he tries, faring as well as can be expected in such an endeavor although he’s probably Maryland’s most recognizable player. He might also be the Terps player of whom the most is anticipated as he begins his third season.

And the thing is Heyward-Bey might just deliver such a payoff this fall.

“He has a tremendous work ethic,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “That’s the thing I like about him. He’s very coachable. He really wants you to coach him.”

Young elder statesman

Two years ago, Heyward-Bey was a question mark. He faced scrutiny as a well-regarded recruit in 2005 and took one snap before redshirting. Then came a freshman season that featured a handful of memorable plays on a team devoid of experienced wideouts.

Last year, Heyward-Bey increased his catches and yardage even if the perception was there weren’t as many big plays. But he improved as the year progressed, and so did a receiver corps Heyward-Bey watched mature the last two seasons.

And suddenly, he’s a veteran, even if the steady gaze and infectious laugh remain the same as before.

“I’m old now,” Heyward-Bey joked.

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