LaQuan Williams leads the way for Maryland's 'Dog Soldiers'

Former Poly standout has made his mark for Terps' special teams unit

November 02, 2010|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — — Maryland special teams standout LaQuan Williams plans to race out onto the field at Miami's Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, proudly wearing his helmet.

But it won't be the helmet you might think.

Williams, who doubles as a wide receiver, said Tuesday that he'll make his entrance wearing military-style headgear given to him by an assistant coach in recognition of his special teams play in last week's 62-14 win over Wake Forest.

"I got the war helmet," said Williams, a Poly graduate. "There were three games where I had the hammer. Tony Logan is always the heavyweight champion."

Williams' terminology is fairly incomprehensible to outsiders. But Maryland's special teams units -- which have blocked four punts this season and lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in punt-return average -- have no problem understanding.

The language is part of a half-serious, half-goofy system of incentives devised by special teams coach Charles Bankins.

The "war" helmet? That's for the weekly special teams standout. Bankins presented it to Williams after the Wake Forest game for his punt block and three tackles.

The heavyweight belt? That's for the most important single special teams play and has been held most often by Logan, who has two punt-return touchdowns. Linebacker Nick Peterson got it last week for a blocked punt.

The sledgehammer? That's given to the Terp who makes the biggest hit. It's been won by multiple players, including Williams.

Excellent special teams play is one reason the Terps (6-2, 3-1 ACC) find themselves only a half-game behind Florida State in the Atlantic Division. Maryland will be trying to win its third straight game when it visits Miami (5-3, 3-2 ACC) on Saturday.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen says Bankins has succeeded in getting players -- including wide receivers such as Williams, Logan, Emani Lee-Odai, Kerry Boykins and Kevin Dorsey -- to enthusiastically buy in to special teams. "I think he motivates," Friedgen said Tuesday. "Guys like LaQuan and Emani Lee have really made this their thing. This is the thing they're going to excel in."

Hired by Maryand before last season, Bankins is a former James Madison running back who has coached special teams as an assistant at Richmond and with the NFL's St. Louis Rams.

"I bring my own system and my own awards," said Bankins, smiling like a proud father after his players blocked two punts and Williams had a solid hit on a kickoff returner against Wake Forest. "I call them the Dog Soldiers," Bankins said. "Dog Soldiers don't start on offense or defense, but start on two or more special teams. They've got tags and T-shirts now."

If Bankins' players sound like kids on a playground, that's sort of the point. "We've got to make this fun," the assistant coach said.

Punt and kick units aren't a prized assignment on many teams. But at Maryland, Williams -- a fifth-year American studies major who plans to graduate in May -- said the coverage teams have given him and others opportunities to shine.

Williams' career as a receiver has been limited. He injured his knee as a redshirt freshman, then missed most of his sophomore season with a foot injury. He has caught 30 passes as a Terp, including a 24-yard touchdown against Wake Forest.

"I've been through a lot since I've been here," Williams said. "After last season, I think it was more that I'm going to do whatever for this team so that we will never be 2-10 again."

He had played safety and quarterback at Poly, and came to Maryland originally as a defensive back. He said his "defensive mentality" asserts itself on special teams.

Other Terps players said they have noticed that the special-teamers seem to be enjoying themselves.

"Emani came out [recently] and did the walk-through in his war helmet. It gets me excited, and I'm not even on special teams. I would love to wear a war helmet sometime," said quarterback Danny O'Brien, sounding like a kid enviously examining somebody else's toys.

Note: Friedgen said he knows Miami's Jacory Harris suffered a concussion last week but doesn't quite believe that the quarterback won't be ready for Saturday's game. "I still think Harris will play," the coach said. Freshman Stephen Morris would likely replace Harris.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

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