CHAPEL HILL, N.C. —- Maryland defensive end Joe Vellano‘s listing on the Terrapins’ final injury report of the season was as big a misnomer as there could be with the the weekly release.
After all, none of his teammates and coaches really doubted Vellano would play in some fashion in his final college game.
“I was definitely going to be out there for the first couple plays, see if I could go,” Vellano said after Maryland’s 45-38 loss to North Carolina. “I was bouncing around every series, though I wasn’t on some personnel groups. It’s tough. I really wanted to be out there fighting as best as I could.”
The end didn’t come in the way Vellano would have liked on several fronts. For the third time in four years, the Terps (4-8, 2-6 ACC) won’t play in a bowl game.
And truth be told, Vellano hasn’t been the same disruptive player he was for the previous two-plus seasons over the final month of his college career.
A nagging foot injury didn’t slow the senior early in the season. A severely sprained ankle suffered in a Nov. 3 loss to Georgia Tech did. Vellano had just one tackle Saturday and only nine over his final four games.
“This is big-time football,” Vellano said. “You have to be almost 100 percent and you have to be able to run. That’s one of them things you can’t really hide. You’re a step slow on everything. Just making plays the last couple games has been real hard for me and just trying to do the best I can. I was going to go out playing. I have nothing to save up for.”
Which is exactly why it seemed like if anyone would be listed as doubtful and still find a way to play, it would be Vellano.
An all-ACC pick a year ago, Vellano completed his career with 219 tackles (32 for loss) and 13.5 sacks. He also started 37 straight games over the last three seasons after a couple injury-plagued years to open his time in College Park.
“Even if he had to get his leg amputated, he was going to be out there,” defensive end A.J. Francis said. “That’s just how Joe is. I was surprised how much he played. He played a lot more than I thought he would. I thought he was going to play a little bit in the first half and then his ankle was going to be too much and he was barely going to play in the second half, if at all. He played pretty much the whole game.”
That was probably the only surprise. It was easy to envision Vellano getting an early nod and then ending his day early. Of course, it was even easier to envision him fighting through to the conclusion of his last college game.
“You guys know Joe,” coach Randy Edsall said. “I didn’t think he’d play as much as he did. It tells you what kind of kid he is. What it means to him. You wish you had 100 Joe Vellanos. It’s important to him, and it’s important to him being a captain that he wanted to be out there. It didn’t surprise me. You could see it. He wasn’t the same old Joe. He was going to find a way to contribute, some way, somehow.”
No, it wasn’t the same old Joe, and he knew it. Deep down, it bothered him to have to put something on tape that wasn’t really him —- not flying to the ball, through no fault of his own. His pass rush wasn’t as pronounced. His quickness wasn’t the same. His footwork, after missing so much practice, wasn’t as sharp.
But he also didn’t want to stand on the sideline as Maryland wrapped up its season.
“Great career,” Vellano said. “I’ve got no regrets and I played as hard as I could, so what are you going to do?”
—- Patrick Stevens