Will Likely doesn’t play on the offensive side of the ball. But he’s arguably the most likely — no pun intended — Terp to reach the end zone.
Likely is a whiz in multiple facets of the game, serving as an expert return man on both punts and kickoffs. And he is an ace cornerback, too. Last season, he scored four touchdowns — one apiece on punt return and kickoff return and twice on interception returns.
He was an All-Big Ten defensive back, leading the league with six interceptions, and he also averaged more kick-return yards than any player in the conference. This season, he’s landed on numerous preseason award watch lists.
Likely is perhaps Maryland’s biggest star. And he’s looking at 2015 as an opportunity to get even better.
“I just want to be better than I was last year,” Likely said Monday during the team’s media day. “I’m going to practice hard every day and compete with those guys like (wide receiver Levern Jacobs). He helps me get better with my craft. Just competing overall is going to help me get better.”
Being better than he was last season will be a tough task, considering how good Likely was in 2014. He totaled 891 return yards between punts, kickoffs and interceptions.
But even if he can’t eclipse his excellent 2014 season, there have already been improvements. Head coach Randy Edsall pointed to an increase in Likely’s leadership abilities this offseason.
“Will is one of those rare and unique young men,” Edsall said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “You know, he's just got some special attributes about himself. He might be 5-foot-8, but he plays like he's 6-foot-4. But the thing that Will does, Will brings a presence to the defense and to the secondary, one of hard work, one of preparation and somebody that's got to find a way to be successful.
“The thing that I've really liked that I've seen happen for Will is Will has been a lot more vocal since the season ended. He's taken on more of a leadership role with our team. And the players respect him. I don't know if I've been around a guy that's so competitive. You see what he does for us on special teams as a punt returner, as a kick returner. You know, he's very valuable. But the other thing is he's a very humble kid. But his leadership, his work ethic really rubs off on everybody else in our program.”
With an offense featuring a ton of new faces — Maryland lost its starting quarterback and its top four receivers from last season — special teams might play an even bigger role for the Terps than most teams. Good thing, then, that the unit has two of the Big Ten’s best players in Likely and kicker Brad Craddock. The Terps might end up with one of the higher-scoring special teams units in the conference.
And Likely might be one of the higher-scoring players on his team, even though he doesn't carry the ball or catch it.