The simple way to identify Maryland football players as they scamper around the Gossett team house is to scan the numbers stitched onto their backpacks.
But it’s not a foolproof system thanks to Drew Gloster and his No. 86 bookbag.
The junior will wear No. 15 for the first time in a game when Maryland visits California for its season opener Sept. 5. But he also has a new position - linebacker - and a fresh outlook after academic ineligibility shelved him all of last season.
“I just wear my No. 86 bookbag as a remembrance that that was the last time I was on the field,” Gloster said. “I still haven’t stepped foot on the field with No. 15 yet.”
When he does, it will provide a slice of closure to a difficult chapter for himself and his family.
Gloster arrived as one of the jewels of Maryland’s 2006 recruiting class, an athletic tight end who evoked some thoughts of Vernon Davis. He redshirted and played 11 games as a redshirt freshman, but a week after spring practice ended in 2008, he sat down with the coaches and learned he wouldn’t play in the fall.
He was three credits shy of the total needed toward his degree after two years. With one more class somewhere along the way, he could have escaped serious punishment. Instead, an entire season was lost, all because of what Gloster called a lack of maturity. The wrong places and the wrong people combined to drag the Germantown native down.
The roughest part wasn’t facing a year without games. It was calling his father, Terry, to break the news.
“When I had to call him and tell him I was ineligible academically - and academics was something he always pushed on our family, and I’ve always got good grades from elementary school to high school - to tell him I was ineligible because of my grades, that was pretty much a slap in their face,” Gloster said.
It was especially hard on Terry Gloster, who is nearing his 25th anniversary with the Montgomery County Police Department. In that time, he worked extra jobs to create opportunities for Drew and his two brothers.
So when Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen called the Glosters in for a meeting with Kevin Glover, Maryland’s director of character education, a stunned Terry Gloster cried as he faced his son.
“I was so hurt that it just came out,” Terry Gloster said. “I said, ‘I can’t believe you’d do this to yourself. Forget about your mother and I. How about yourself? All this potential wasted.’ ”
Not entirely. Friedgen permitted Gloster to remain with the team but not in ideal circumstances. Gloster wasn’t invited to camp, and when he finally arrived he was a scout-team fixture. Depending on the week, he played quarterback, running back, receiver or tight end.
It was the sort of jolt Gloster - a self-described “oldhead” after turning 21 on the first day of camp this year - probably needed. In the past, he would slog through practice and go through the motions. Now it’s a matter of handling his assignments and moving on to the next play.
“He is maturing,” Friedgen said while knocking on a wood table in his office. “Let’s just say Drew and his dad and I have had a lot of conversations. Nothing really terrible. Just male procrastination. I was the same way. That’s probably why I relate to him.”