The University of Maryland has had its share of freshman step on the field and make an immediate impact this season. One of those freshmen is cornerback Will Likely, who was inserted into the starting lineup after earlier injuries to Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson.
Likely graduated from high school early and arrived to College Park during the spring. Starting the season as a part-time punt return specialist, Likely has shown the potential to be a great cornerback for the years to come.
"Will is a guy from the very first day that he came in here, you could see he had something special about him," Terps coach Randy Edsall said, "just in terms of how he went about his business and how he was doing everything and, again, the competiveness of Will."
The 5-foot-7, 175-pound Likely recorded his first-career interception during the Terps' Nov. 9 loss to Syracuse. Edsall said Likely used his competitive edge and knowledge of the game to make up for being undersized.
"The thing that I like about Will, he understands that he's not the tallest guy in the world, he plays with a chip on his shoulder and he competes his butt off each and every day," Edsall said. "He's a smart football player; he works extremely hard at getting better, never satisfied, tough guy."
Part of the work Likely does is off the field, helping prepare himself for the mental part of the game. Defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said Likely spent time with the coaches and studied the opponents, which has helped better his performances in games.
"He is an avid studier of a film, and he comes in and looks at the sheets and knows what he is supposed to do," Stewart said. "He does a good job, and I am happy for him."
Likely has played in all nine of the Terps' games this season and is fifth on the team in tackles with 43. He is also second on the team with four pass breakups.
Along with his outstanding play on defense, Likely is also one of the nation's best on special teams. He ranks third in the Atlantic Coast Conference on kickoff returns, averaging 27.4 yards per return. That is also good enough for 12th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
After sophomore receiver/returner Stefon Diggs suffered a season-ending leg injury, Likely took over as Maryland's full-time return specialist. He has yet to record a return touchdown, but he continues to change field position with his returns.
Johnson is expected to return this season, and Likely could possibly lose his starting position on the depth chart. Even if that happens, he should still get plenty of playing time on defense.
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