"I feel like I'm light years more mature than I was… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
COLLEGE PARK — — Marcus Leak tried to watch as many Maryland football games as he could last season, but that was not always easy. The junior wide receiver was home in Charlotte, N.C., taking a semester off for still-undisclosed "personal" reasons.
When he did catch a game on television, sitting at home with his family or out with friends, Leak knew the Terps could have used him, especially after fellow wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long each broke a leg in a game at Wake Forest.
"It was hard to watch at times, at times like that [when the two wideouts got hurt]," Leak recalled. "As far as Stef and Deon going down, I had confidence in the receiving corps and the depth at receiver that they could go in and you won't see a drop performancewise. Levern Jacobs stepped in and he helped out; he filled their shoes pretty well."
Leak, who returned to Maryland in January, is now getting his own opportunity, with Diggs and Long still limited to seven-on-seven drills in spring practice. Having shown flashes of promise before getting hurt in 2012, Leak is also grateful that Maryland coach Randy Edsall is giving him another chance.
"It was a very humbling experience, being away from my teammates, seeing a lot of things I was taking for granted," Leak said after practice Wednesday. "I think I matured a lot in my time away. It's just great being back, being back with my team and moving forward."
Asked how much more mature he is now, Leak said: "I feel like I'm light years more mature than I was before in terms of just going hard and knowing it's more of a team effort. You can't be productive if you have a selfish mindset. We have to play for each other for one goal."
Leak said he stayed in regular touch with Edsall, who had given Leak certain goals to reach in order to return. Some of it was academic — taking a math course and a foreign language course at a local junior college and "try[ing] to get A's and B's so the credits would transfer." Some of it was simply a process of maturing.
It helped Leak get closer to Edsall than he had been before.
"He was trying to keep my head together. I had some personal issues that I had to handle at home, and he was just talking to me [about] some things that I normally wouldn't be comfortable talking to my parents about," Leak said. "He was just trying to keep my spirits up. It helped me and Coach develop a better relationship."
Said Edsall: "I'm one to really believe that your actions speak louder than your words. Marcus having to go home for a semester was the best thing that could have happened to Marcus. I had full support of his family. I don't know if he understood it first. If I didn't do that, then I would be contributing to a problem rather than be a solution for him."
Edsall said he has seen a different person and player than from Leak's first two seasons.
"I can just tell by him being away, when I spoke to him on the phone when he was home, I can see and feel a different person," Edsall said. "And when he came up and visited on a number of occasions, I could see a totally different person. What usually happens from that is that you find if the kid really wants to be part of what you're doing. You could tell that he wanted to do."
As a sophomore, Leak was just starting to show his potential when he got hurt. In the game against North Carolina State, in which he suffered a season-ending broken toe, Leak caught four passes for a career-high 94 yards, half of them coming on a career-long 47-yard catch. In six games, he had 23 catches for 393 yards and two touchdowns.
Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown, who missed the 2012 season with a knee injury, said Leak was "one of our big guys to go to" before he was injured but has come back with as much, if not more, potential to be a big-play receiver in 2014.
"He came back bigger and stronger. As you can tell, he's a physical person. He looks good; he's busting his tail just like everyone else," Brown said Wednesday of the 6-foot, 210-pound receiver. "I think the biggest thing he feels more comfortable with the playbook as well. Taking that time off, he really understands the meaning of football and the impact it has on his life. I think he takes it a lot more seriously."