There was a year on the sideline as mandated by the NCAA’s transfer rules, a frustrating experience for someone accustomed to playing. Then came a yearlong suspension announced the afternoon of Maryland’s 2007 opener, punishment for cheating on a pop quiz.
Last fall was supposed to be the time he would finally be unshackled, free to play a bigger role than imitating the likes of Pat White in practice on the scout team. The Terps figured to employ a more potent offense with new coordinator James Franklin rejoining the program.
After a three-way camp battle, Maryland announced Portis would play as a complement to starter Jordan Steffy (and, after the season’s first week, Chris Turner). The reason? It was obvious.
“Good kid, unbelievable amount of potential, natural football player,” Franklin said last week. “In terms of just height, weight, speed, 40, vertical jump, arm strength - you take that kid every single year. He’ll be what everybody gets excited about - the Rivals four-star guy. Every year, he’ll be that.”
But the excitement died quickly. He played in the first seven games, earning his most extensive time in a rout of Eastern Michigan. The Portis Package eventually faded into nothing, and he did not appear in five of the Terps’ final six outings.
In his last snap with the Terps, he lost a fumble in the fourth quarter against North Carolina. In all, he took 46 snaps - which prompted a dismissive “pffft” from Portis when told of his workload the past three years. After the season, he quietly left the program.
“After that sit-out year, I’d transferred my whole life,” he said. “Things obviously didn’t work out for me. I kept being a team player. I didn’t pout or anything like that. I wasn’t a cancer on the team, because that’s not right.”
Coach Ralph Friedgen concurred. He said Portis, despite not playing in the Humanitarian Bowl, was crucial in providing a look for Nevada’s tricky offense heading into that game.
How? By emulating one of the Wolf Pack’s several quick receivers.
“My only regret is that it didn’t work out,” Friedgen said. “I really like the kid. I think some of the frustrations he had here were just that - frustrations. He’s a very good athlete. He has a good work ethic. I just want to see the kid enjoy football and have some success and hopefully achieve his dreams.”
Another fresh start
If he does, it will happen at a school coming off back-to-back trips to the Division II semifinals that sits on a bend of the Monongahela River.
Portis is living off campus, a town over in the creatively named Coal Center (population 126, according to last year’s Census Bureau estimate). The buzz that accompanied him at his first two collegiate stops is noticeably absent here.
“I feel like hype is false,” he said. “Hype is something that’s not proven. I really don’t look at it. I don’t pay attention to all the media attention. It’s good to get a lot of media clips, but if you’re focused on that, you’re not focused on the game. You’re not focused on your performance.”
Unquestionably, that’s his priority.