- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2012

When Maryland coach Randy Edsall rewarded wide receiver Marcus Leak with a game ball after Saturday’s season-opening victory, the sophomore’s three receptions were merely part of the rationale behind the honor.

Instead, it was Leak’s eagerness to track down William & Mary safety Brian Thompson from behind at the Maryland 9 on an interception return in the first quarter that stood out to Edsall after the 7-6 triumph. The Tribe kicked a field goal on the ensuing possession.

“That might have been the most important play of the whole game, because if they go in and score a touchdown there, it’s 10-0 and who knows what’s going to happen,” Edsall said. “I even said in the team meeting, a year ago I’m not sure that would have happened, that he would have hustled that way and got down there because maybe he didn’t know any better.”

He learned thanks to an atypical freshman season unusual even by the Terrapins’ standards during a rocky 2011.

Leak played in seven of the first eight games, and drew a start in late October against Florida State in place of the injured Kevin Dorsey. He played well even as many of his teammates struggled, hauling in eight receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown. A week later, he drew another start, but Boston College held him without a catch.

Then Dorsey returned to the starting lineup and Leak disappeared. He didn’t appear on the injury report for the final four weeks of the season, nor did he play. His promising season totals after the Florida State performance (12 receptions and 85 yards) never changed.

“It was a little hard on me, but I knew at the time I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do, and Kevin was the right guy for the job,” Leak said recently.

Eventually, though, he wanted to change that. In Edsall’s view, it meant the sort of growing up commonly needed among freshmen. Those changes began to surface in the spring, when Leak earned a share of a starting position.

All along, Dorsey remained a regular influence, providing encouragement to the 6-foot, 205-pounder as he dealt with his tumultuous freshman season while also prodding him to further dedicate himself.

“I told Marcus, ‘With your talents and skills, you can be a first-round draft pick one day. I guarantee you can,’” Dorsey said. “‘The only thing you have to do is fine-tune the little things you have. It takes that little bit extra to make it to the next level. Right now, you have everything you need. It’s up to you if you want to be there.’”

The hints of a step forward are there. Leak worked with the starters during camp and never relinquished the position as the Terps (1-0) went into their opener.

His third career start fell in the middle of the first two. He led the team in receiving yards with 37, and quarterback Perry Hills targeted him four times, more than anyone besides Dorsey (five targets).

“Just seeing him as a true freshman to now, he’s matured so much,” wideout Kerry Boykins said. “His work ethic has improved greatly. Over the summer, we saw a different side of him. He was in the weight room. He got a lot bigger and a lot stronger. He’s even gotten faster. He’s improved in a lot of different ways, and he has a better knowledge of the playbook and route-running at the collegiate level.”

During camp, coaches said consistency was something they still hoped to see from Leak. What might have been a game-saving tackle offered reason to believe their message has taken root entering Saturday’s trip to Temple (1-0).

After a debut season when his playing time disappeared as quickly as it rose, Leak clearly heeded the Terps’ pleas.

“Nothing’s for sure,” Leak said. “I like that about how the coaches have it now. Nothing’s a sure thing, so he wants you to come out and battle.”

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