Maryland linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield unwound from a practice this month at his locker and while trying to do so was asked an interesting question.
Freshman offensive lineman Pete DeSouza wondered whether Hartsfield, the Terrapins’ starter at weakside linebacker throughout camp, was a redshirt freshman. When Hartsfield answered in the affirmative, DeSouza was surprised.
And in some ways, so too was Hartsfield.
“Sometimes I forget I’ve been here only a year and a half,” said Hartsfield, who arrived on campus a semester early last year.
Eventually, fans could identify him as a player whose time in college seemingly lasted forever. But now he’s about to embark on a career that could prove even more enduring than those of the great linebackers exported from College Park to the NFL this decade.
E.J. Henderson, Leon Joe, D’Qwell Jackson, Erin Henderson and Moise Fokou have been among the players at the position to earn NFL looks. None started regularly as a freshman.
In fact, Maryland’s last four-year starter at linebacker was Aaron Thompson (1998-2001). The last freshman linebacker to start even once was Ricardo Dickerson in 2002.
Hartsfield probably will change the latter Sept. 5 when the Terps open at No. 12 California. And should he avoid injury and continue to unleash the quick, instinctual play he demonstrated this month in camp, he might just become part of rare company at a school that specializes in linebackers.
“I think he’s going to bust it wide-open,” junior linebacker Adrian Moten said. “I think Demetrius is going to be one of the best to ever leave here.”
All this for a guy who hasn’t even taken a college snap yet. But there already are signs the future anchor of the Maryland defense is about to make a splashy debut.
Hartsfield nearly played last season. When coach Ralph Friedgen called him into his office just before the season to present the possibility of redshirting, Hartsfield said he wanted to play.
He prepared himself for the possibility. On road trips, he would watch film with former Terps linebacker Dave Philistin on a portable DVD player. He would constantly mine fellow North Carolinian Chase Bullock for insight on playing linebacker.
And of course there was Moten, an equally savvy player who calls Hartsfield his little brother - a 6-foot-2, 230-pound little brother who can run as well as any of Maryland’s other linebackers after improving his speed in the 19 months since his arrival.
“The way he’s played in the spring and the way he’s playing right now, we’re excited about him,” Friedgen said. “And the fact he has four more years of eligibility, we’re very excited about. He’s playing with much more confidence than he did last year. He’s kind of grown up and changed his body.”
The redshirt season helped, and it also amplified Hartsfield’s eagerness to finally see the field. He remains the likely starter at the Terps’ weakside position even after contending with mammoth left tackle Bruce Campbell for chunks of camp.
Like Moten, he’s thriving in new defensive coordinator Don Brown’s frantic, complex scheme. And he already has three games he’s especially looking forward to: trips to Wake Forest, Duke and N.C. State; the latter’s stadium is just 10 minutes from where he grew up.
“My goal last year, even though I wasn’t playing, was to sweep the Carolina teams,” said Hartsfield, who saw the Terps go 3-0 in those games. “This year, I have to. That’s a must for me. The fact they’re all in North Carolina means more to me because I get to go home three times.”
He could have several more homecomings before his career is through. Hartsfield, who said he would be honored to start for a program with such a linebacker legacy, isn’t thinking too far ahead. Yet he has invested plenty of time with the Terps, and it’s not difficult to envision a substantial future payoff.
“He could have a chance to surpass those guys on the books, which is not the most important thing. Winning games is,” Maryland linebackers coach Al Seamonson said. “But when you have a chance to have a four-year starting career, it’s a pretty daunting task. … There’s no guarantees, but he certainly has a chance to get off to a good start.”
• Patrick Stevens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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