- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Mike Locksley could feel his players deflate after he informed them Maryland football’s matchup against Michigan had been canceled. For the third time in four weeks, the Terrapins were without a game, this time due to a coronavirus outbreak inside their competitors’ program.

In those 15 minutes before practice, the coach knew he needed to switch things up. Locksley couldn’t run a practice like normal; so much in 2020 isn’t normal, after all, and the cancellation hung like a cloud over his team.

So Locksley picked up a microphone. He queued up a selection of banging tunes. And he ran one of the most unorthodox practices of his career — yet it was the practice his players so desperately needed at that moment.

“He just made it fun,” defensive lineman Mosiah Nasili-Kite said, “so we weren’t really thinking about the canceled game.”

As Locksley handles a football season unlike any other — navigating coronavirus outbreaks as well as a Big Ten schedule — he’s come face-to-face with the realization that he needs to be flexible. In a routine-oriented job, a little spontaneity goes a long way.

Even if that challenges some of the rules Locksley has come to live by.

“Coaches are creatures of habit, and I have not been allowed to be a creature of habit with 2020, with this season,” Locksley said. “It has really challenged my creativity, my ability to adjust, and make adjustments on the fly.”

During that Dec. 2 practice, Locksley altered his practice entirely.

He played music, which is practically a cardinal sin for a coach who learned from Alabama’s Nick Saban. He created a point system to judge each play, upping the competitiveness of practice. He offered the first-team players more rest while giving the second- and third-string groups additional opportunities.

And Locksley narrated the whole affair, watching over the plays and offering his two cents as he spoke into the microphone.

“He was saying some voices and some things that I never heard, and I never thought he’d say before,” quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa said. “I mean, hopefully we can have another practice like that. It was just fun and competitive. And Coach Locks, he’s a character.”

Locksley said he used to play music at practices, but then he arrived at Alabama in 2016, spending three seasons working with Saban’s offense. The Crimson Tide made three straight national title games, winning two championships — “and there was no music being played” at practice, Locksley pointed out.

The reasoning is simple. Walk into any classroom on campus, and you’d be hard pressed to hear music playing while a professor attempted to lecture. When Locksley’s on the football field, he wants to make sure his players are fully focused on the material at hand, too.

“The field for us is our classroom,” Locksley said, “and very few times do you walk into a lecture hall with a professor teaching you about macroeconomics do you have Lil Baby blasting in the background.”

But Locksley also knows in 2020, rules are meant to be broken. This has been a difficult season for Maryland, with a coronavirus outbreak infecting 30 members of the program within a two-week period and canceling two games last month.

And Locksley knew his team needed a boost once the Michigan game was canceled, another hiccup in a season full of disruptions. So he embraced the creativity this year has forced him to develop, just for one practice — even if that creativity meant playing music in his classroom.

“When he played the music, it changed everybody’s moods,” Nasili-Kite said. “It helped us just practice hard and have fun out there.”

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