COLLEGE PARK — — Facing a third-and-long early in the third quarter against Duke, Dave Stinebaugh made the biggest play of his young career. The Maryland tight end hauled in a 19-yard pass from quarterback Danny O'Brien, keeping the Terps' drive alive in an eventual 21-16 win.
That was two years, six months and 11 days ago. And it was the last time Stinebaugh recorded a catch for the Terps.
The Baltimore native tore his MCL not long after that catch, and after returning to the field for a late-season practice, tore his right shoulder labrum. He re-tore that same labrum during summer workouts prior to the 2011 season, and he blew out his shoulder socket a year later and had to get it completely reconstructed.
That game against the Blue Devils on Oct. 2, 2010, was the fifth game of his career. More than two-and-a-half years later, it looks like Stinebaugh might finally get a chance to play his sixth.
The senior is the most veteran of the team's four tight ends, and it seems like his shoulder troubles are finally behind him. Coach Randy Edsall wasn't shy about saying what his role would be next season, either. At tight end, Stinebaugh is "the guy."
"Starting off my career here was definitely disappointing with all the injuries and not being able to play," Stinebaugh said before Friday's annual Red-White Spring Game. "Now I'm kind of the only guy at tight end, one of the older people on the team. It's definitely something I've looked forward to, something I'm ready to take on a strong role with."
For Stinebaugh, it's been a long time coming. The 6-foot-4 tight end starred at Perry Hall, recording 100 catches for 1,667 yards in his junior and senior seasons. He was a three-star recruit in the Class of 2009, and Scout.com ranked him as the nation's No. 57 tight end.
And after redshirting his first season in College Park — Tommy Galt, Matt Furstenburg and Devonte Campbell were all ahead of him on the depth chart — Stinebaugh looked poised to make an impact in his second year in the program.
He didn't record any catches in the team's first three games, but he hauled in three passes for 23 yards in a Sept. 25, 2010 win over Florida International, and he made his only career start a week later against Duke.
Stinebaugh called it a "pretty good start" for a redshirt freshman, but injuries quickly derailed his progress.
"The things I've been through the last four years, I wouldn't wish them on anybody else," Stinebaugh said. "Not being able to be out there on the field, kind of just sitting in the treatment room and getting treatment day after day and not playing for two or three years is definitely rough."
His return couldn't have come at a better time for the Terps, though. Furstenburg, Campbell and Ryan Schlothauer (Eastern Tech) all graduated after last season, leaving Stinebaugh as one of only four tight ends on the roster.
In fact, none of the other three tight ends on the roster have ever played a game for the Terps. P.J. Gallo and Brian McMahon (Atholton) both redshirted last season, and Daniel Adams sat out all of last year after transferring from New Mexico.
Despite not having played since October 2010, Stinebaugh already has chemistry with starting quarterback C.J. Brown. Brown hasn't been able to participate in any team drills yet this season — he's still only taking part in 7-on-7 drills while recovering from a torn ACL suffered before last season — but he and Stinebaugh have been roommates since they came to campus in 2009.
"I know him, he knows me. We watch film together, we throw together. It's that safety net that I can always lean back on," Brown said. "It's really exciting to see him blossom."
Said tight ends coach John Dunn: "I think Dave has always had the ability to accomplish the things he has shown us this spring. As coaches we have always seen that he has great capability. He has had the injury bug which has set him behind a little, but I think he is going to be able to do everything that Matt Furstenburg was able to do. Dave can be effective in both the running and passing game, he is dynamic."
Brown definitely won't be ready for Friday's spring game, and Stinebaugh might not either. His shoulder and knee are completely healed, but he turned his ankle in drills earlier this week, and Edsall said he wouldn't scrimmage his oft-injured tight end unless he was 100 percent.
"I don't need him for Friday night," Edsall said. "I need him for the season."
Stinebaugh would likely agree. After all, he hasn't played a meaningful snap since that game against the Blue Devils. His only goal is to be on the field and healthy when the Terps host FIU — the same team he had his career-best game against three seasons ago — in their season opener five months from now. And he'll do whatever it takes to achieve it.
"Things may be tough, but they could always be worse," Stinebaugh said. "The fact that I'm out here playing again and kind of 'the guy' is exciting. It just keeps the drive going."