C.J. Brown, Maryland’s presumptive starting quarterback and one of its team captains, already had the chance to play extinguished in the preseason.
He wasn’t about to surrender the one thing certain to get him on the field: A trek to midfield for the pregame coin toss each week.
“They asked me the first game if I wanted to do it and I said ‘Heck, yeah, I’ll crutch out to the 50. I’ll suck up the pain,’” Brown said Wednesday in his first discussion with reporters about his Aug. 14 injury. “I wouldn’t give that up for the world.”
Brown shed his crutches weeks ago, though his recovery from a torn right anterior cruciate ligament during preseason practice continues. His successor, Perry Hills, tore his left ACL in Saturday’s loss to N.C. State, leaving the Terrapins (4-3, 2-1 ACC) to work with sophomore Devin Burns and Caleb Rowe at quarterback.
In what might have been a lost year, Brown finds ways to help his team. He is a regular on road trips. He sits in on position meetings. He was a sounding board for Hills as the freshman prepared for his seven starts.
This week, he is helping the Terps’ staff provide a crash course in playing quarterback in offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s system to tight end Brian McMahon and linebacker Shawn Petty, Maryland’s new emergency options.
“It’s been invaluable having a guy like him,” Locksley said.
This wasn’t the role originally carved out for Brown. The redshirt junior, who lost almost his entire 2010 season to a shoulder injury, was the only quarterback on the roster with college experience and had the spring and summer to soak up the nuances of a new offense.
That changed during a noncontact drill inside Byrd Stadium during the second week of preseason camp. He made a standard-issue cut. His knee gave out.
Coach Randy Edsall insisted Brown would remain a major influence on the team. Brown heard from other players who underwent the same rehabilitation process. And teammate Justin Gilbert, himself a veteran of two ACL surgeries, reiterated the most important thing he learned from his comeback.
“One of the biggest pieces of advice I gave him when he got hurt was stick around, make sure you’re still here. …,” Gilbert said. “Everything we have to do as a team, he’s there. They give him a headset on the sideline, he’s listening to the coaches, he’s talking to the coaches, talking to the quarterbacks on the field because coach Locksley is up in the box. He’s as big a part of it as we are and the coaches are.”
Brown split his fall up into three segments. The communication major is on track to graduate at semester’s end, and wrapping up his degree requirements is a priority. He provides an extra voice during meetings and does what he can to improve the Terps, who visit Boston College (1-6, 0-4) on Saturday.
Then there’s the treatment, a twice-daily ritual that keeps him from attending practice but nonetheless is the best way he can improve the fortunes of the program next season.
And, yes, there’s an instinct to return to the field, even though he is aware he is far from ready just two months removed from the injury.
“It feels good right now,” Brown said. “I feel like I can go out there and do something. But in reality, I know my leg’s not strong enough and I know my leg couldn’t take it. It just feels good to be able to walk again and to be able to take care of myself and not rely on someone to get me food or something like that.”
Brown believes he is “where I need to be right now” as he plots his return for next season. He won’t be Maryland’s only tested quarterback in 2013; Hills will presumably be back from his pending surgery, Rowe could play over the final five games and it is uncertain whether Burns will return to wideout.
Eventually, though, Brown plans to again make calls in College Park that go beyond heads or tails.
“It’s not an experience I want to remember but it’ll be with me for the rest of my life,” Brown said as he looked toward the field inside Byrd. “When I get back out there, I’m sure I’ll go out there and stand there and run around that little area there. It’s just something that’s part of the game.”
—- Patrick Stevens