Alex Twine didn’t play as a sophomore at Gaithersburg’s Quince Orchard High School for academic reasons. He languished through part of his junior year as a reserve who saw most of his time on special teams.
The season was around its midpoint, and coach Dave Mencarini had seen enough of a player with plenty of talent who didn’t seem to realize it. During a stretching session to open a practice, Mencarini was blunt.
“I basically just looked him in the face and said ‘I’ve coached a lot of great football players that are playing all over the country, and you can be as good as any of them,’ ” Mencarini recalled. ” ‘But until you take the steps every day and believe you can be great, all you’re going to be is a backup.’”
Those days didn’t last much longer, even if there are times Twine wonders just how it happened.
The linebacker surged into the spotlight, collecting scholarship offers as a senior from CAA schools and then Maryland. Last week, he played nearly the entire second half in place of injured junior Demetrius Hartsfield against Georgia Tech. And Saturday, Twine could make his first start as the Terrapins (2-3, 1-1 ACC) face No. 8 Clemson (6-0, 3-0) at Byrd Stadium.
He made two tackles against Georgia Tech, hauling down quarterback Tevin Washington on a fourth down to give possession back to Maryland and again on a third down to force a punt.
None of it was as stunning to Twine as his first appearance — late in the season opener against Miami when Darin Drakeford was carted off the field.
“I was kind of like ‘Uh-oh,’ ” Twine said. “My first reaction was ‘I was going in.’ I heard them call my name, and my first step was I didn’t move at all. I just stood there and looked at them and [thought] ‘Am I really going in?’ “
The prospect of playing in a major-college game was unthinkable even a year earlier. His first offer (from Massachusetts) came during the season. Mencarini contacted former Terps recruiting coordinator Dave Sollazzo last September and passed along tape of Twine’s first three games as a senior.
Then Maryland fired coach Ralph Friedgen, hired Randy Edsall and Twine arrived in College Park this summer. He played Star — the Terps’ strong-side linebacker position - during offseason workouts before shifting to the weak side when camp commenced.
Injuries to Drakeford and Hartsfield completed the wild career shift. Twine, once an afterthought, needed less than half a season to become an important part of Maryland’s plans.
“I do think his best days are ahead of him, but he doesn’t have time right now,” Mencarini said. “He understands the game very well. He has all the physical tools; it’s the mental part that needs to catch up. But he understands football and understands defense.”
Still, he’s not above some nerves. On Twine’s first play against Georgia Tech, Washington ran right at him for a touchdown.
When it happened again later in the game, Twine was ready.
“When Mete got hurt, he came back to the sideline and was asking me questions,” freshman linebacker Mario Rowson said. “In practice, he was doing it like he knew it. I was like ‘Just calm down. It’s like practice. It’s nothing to stress over.’ He looked at me and said ‘Yeah, I’m ready to go.’ “
It’s just far sooner than he thought he would be needed.
“It’s different to think about now,” Twine said. “Before, I was so worried about not playing and worried about not being able to dress and now that I’ve been thrown into situations I didn’t think I’d ever be thrown into before. It’s good that it happened. It’s good to see how far I came.”