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At Maryland, middle man front and center

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Demetrius Hartsfield knew what he was getting into, even while he was being recruited.

The linebacker legacy at Maryland is strong. At middle linebacker - where a Terrapin earned first team all-ACC honors in six of the past 10 seasons - it was even stronger.

And now, it is Hartsfield's to uphold.

Of the many players under scrutiny as Maryland opens the season Monday against Miami at Byrd Stadium, none has quite the same well-worn path to follow as Hartsfield. The junior, a two-year starter on the weak side, shifts to the position the likes of E.J. Henderson, DQwell Jackson and Alex Wujciak manned in the past decade.

"It's definitely a big step that I have to take, and you have to up your level if you're going to play middle linebacker at Maryland," Hartsfield said. "They might say Penn State is the Linebacker U., but I think Maryland might have them. It's definitely a bigger step I have to take, and I have to play a lot better."

Not that he's played poorly after starting most of the past two seasons. Yet after mainstays Adrian Moten and Alex Wujciak graduated and coach Randy Edsall replaced Ralph Friedgen after last season, Hartsfield's place in the defense is greater than ever.

Edsall and his staff quickly moved Hartsfield to middle linebacker, where the Raleigh, N.C., native played in high school. But it took a bit of time to adjust back to his old spot.

"It's not a huge difference," Hartsfield said. "But going at this pace at the college level, it's definitely different. I struggled a little bit in the spring, but now it's second nature to me."

In the months since the switch, Hartsfield said he's talked to several former Terps about the importance of the position, including Jackson. The same goes for Moten, who made Indianapolis' roster as an undrafted free agent.

The message from Moten, who served as a mentor to Hartsfield during their time in College Park, was simple.

"You need to lead the defense," Moten said. "He's a linebacker, and all linebackers need to lead the defense. I just tried to make sure he knew this is his team. I'm not there; nobodys there anymore. He has to lead the team. As far as he wants to go - ACC championship - I told him it's something he can do and to make sure to go about it the right way."

It might mean being chattier on a regular basis, not just in games.

Hartsfield said despite the well-earned reputations for boisterousness in practice Moten and Wujciak possessed, it was he who actually was the loudest on the field. Yet the Terps' inside linebacker positions are extremely inexperienced; weak-side starter Darin Drakeford will make his first start Monday, and immediate backups Lorne Goree and Alex Twine are freshmen.

Linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski said the staff instilled the importance of Hartsfield emerging as a leader at his new position throughout the offseason. It doesn't hurt that his play could do a lot of talking on its own.

"Demetrius is definitely going to leave his own imprint as a great middle linebacker," senior linebacker Kenny Tate said. "Being a starter, playing the last two years, hes definitely improved. He's so versatile in being able to play outside linebacker and middle linebacker. He's big enough to be in the trenches and still be fast enough to cover a back or a tight end or a wide receiver."

Hartsfield and Tate have played alongside each other the past two years - Hartsfield on the weak side, Tate at safety - and their familiarity is likely to help the Terps in their new-look defense.

That scheme, along with the rest of Maryland's new look, debuts Monday. So, too, does the next chapter in the Terps' substantial middle linebacker history.

"I feel like a lot of people are waiting for me to take that next step and be the next great linebacker here, and I'm ready to do that and I'm definitely going to do it this year," Hartsfield said.

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