Terps excited about Military Bowl bid
COLLEGE PARK--Maryland cornerback Jeremiah Johnson was Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., when he saw fellow defensive back Dexter McDougle go down--and stay down.
Johnson himself was not playing, having broken his toe the week before in Maryland’s season-opening win over Florida International. He was, instead, on the sideline watching the man he calls his “big brother” have, as Johnson put it, “the game of his life.”
The label was warranted, as McDougle had registered eight tackles and picked off two passes, one of which he had just returned for a touchdown. Only a few plays later, he was on the ground while trainers examined his shoulder after an awkward collision while making a tackle.
“It’s still crazy to this day because I’ve seen him make that play a hundred times, literally,” Johnson told CSN on Tuesday. “When it first happened, it was kind of like maybe his shoulder popped out or something.”
McDougle would be forced to undergo extensive surgery on the shoulder and was ruled out for the season. As a senior, that meant the end of his college career at Maryland.
And there was Johnson, only a redshirt junior, with the possibility to return in the 2013 season and still with a year of eligibility remaining.
“It kind of was like a wake-up call to still appreciate everything that I have even though I was going through that tough time,” Johnson said. “ Me, personally, that kind of put my situation in perspective because I knew that I would be able to return eventually and play again at Maryland, but Dex unfortunately didn’t have that opportunity.”
Johnson’s role as an injured player transformed slowly throughout the season, first as one of the lone starters who was injured, but as the injuries piled up, he became one of the many sidelined for the season.
It was Johnson, then McDougle, then linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, then wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, with other scattered bumps and bruises at almost every major skill position on both sides of the ball.
“It was a challenge,” Johnson said. “I think that one thing that I’ve learned is that you can’t control every situation and I think grew impatient.
“I learned to be patient and how to be a leader in other aspects and I think that first and foremost I grew as a man because it’s hard to not have control over something. It happened and I grew from it.”
Now Johnson and his teammates prepare for the Military Bowl on Dec. 27, something he has been patiently waiting for through those ups and downs, through when he was not allowed on the field for practice because of his injury and through that long rehab road back to the field.
At one point, coach Randy Edsall allow the long-term injured onto the field as pseudo-coaches, helping not only Johnson but others as well in their recovery. Edsall has said in the past that the move was intended to keep those who were sidelined involved in day-to-day team activities.
“It kind of helped fill that void,” Johnson said.
Then he recalled something McDougle said to him after the senior suffered his season-ending injury, something that he keeps with him as he prepares to play in the Military Bowl at the end of the month.
“He talked to me afterwards like, ‘Hey, you’ve got the opportunity to come back,’” Johnson remembers. “'So make the most of it and everything will take care of itself.’”
To purchase tickets to the 2013 Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., click here.