When he was in fifth grade, Tim Downs arrived at an important life decision: he would play football at Maryland.
Growing up in Latrobe, Pa., Downs idolized Kyle Schmitt, an offensive lineman at Derry Area High School who had accepted a football scholarship to play for the Terps. Downs’ reaction to the news of Schmitt’s Maryland commitment was simple.
“I remember telling my dad that, ‘I’m going to go to Maryland. I bet you $100.’”
Downs eventually made good on his promise. He starred for Derry High years later at linebacker and fullback, in addition to learning to be a long snapper. By the time it was time for Downs to apply to college, Schmitt was a graduate assistant with the Terps. Downs sent his highlight tape in, was accepted to Maryland and joined the Terps as a walk-on. After redshirting his freshman year and serving as a backup in 2008, Downs won the long-snapping job and appeared in 37 games for Maryland over the next three seasons.
Downs, who graduated from Maryland in December with a history degree and is living in Tyson’s Corner, spoke to The Sun recently about his Terps career and life after college.
You came to Maryland without a scholarship. Where do you think you would’ve ended up if you didn’t go the walk-on route with the Terps?
If it wasn’t for Maryland, I probably would’ve ended up at IUP – Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a Division II school. Maryland was the only big-time Division I. I basically took a gamble with it. [Smaller schools looked at me for] fullback or linebacker, but I just wanted to take a gamble with the whole long-snapping thing. Maryland was the only big-time school I sent film to and really, if I got in there, I [decided that] I was going there because I said that’s where I’m going when I was younger. I got a phone call from the special teams coach at the time. [He said], ‘You can get in, you have the grades.’ I got in, and that was that.
Once you were at school and on the team, was it kind of surreal?
It was different, especially my first year. It was very eye-opening. You go from high school where you’re one of the bigger kids, then you go to a team where you’re not exactly the most talented or the biggest of the strongest. You go from playing, I don’t know, in front of maybe 1,000 people to just running out of that tunnel in a stadium in front of 50, 60, 70,000 people every week. It was cool and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was almost like in this dream world my whole freshman year, like ‘Holy crap, I’m playing Division I football,’ even though I was redshirting. I think it was one of the more pivotal years of my whole college career.
You redshirted your freshman year and were a backup the following season. When you won the job as a redshirt sophomore and prepared for your first game, what was going through your head?
It was almost like I [knew I] was ready. That surreal feeling really didn’t happen until my first actual game that I started. It was at Cal in Berkeley in front of 70,000 people on ESPN. The night before in the hotel, it was kind of like, ‘Holy crap, this is really happening. I guess I can’t mess up tomorrow because I’ll be on TV.’ That’s when the butterflies started happening. I worked hard every day my first two years, but it wasn’t until then that [playing for Maryland sunk in]. I was so determined not to fail and to be the starter. I had been the backup for two years, but that doesn’t mean that they couldn't bring in someone else. They did bring in someone else to test me and push me. But I took it all in and stayed focused and determined.
What was the top highlight of your Maryland career?
There were a few throughout my whole five years. As a freshman, my first true big game I was a part of, I really remember the Boston College game in 2007 when they were ranked seventh or eighth with Matt Ryan. We ended up beating them and the fans rushed the field. But as far as playing goes, I know beating Clemson my redshirt sophomore year in 2009 was pretty exciting. That whole 2010 season was great. And definitely this past year. Even just playing with the new uniforms was something special. Displaying the Maryland pride uniforms and, I think they were talked about the next 11 or 12 days on ESPN. That was pretty cool. Every time I put the uniform on, it was a special moment, no matter what.
Do you have any regrets about how your career played out?