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Maryland flag drop tradition rooted in unique local pride, football program’s revitalization

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SECU Stadium had been lulled to sleep by the second quarter on Saturday of Week 1 of the 2023 college football season, as Maryland was well on the road to a steamrolling of Towson University. The Terps led 21-0 after the first quarter, but the opening weekend juice in the building had dissipated.

Then, one of the largest scoreboards in the Big Ten conference came to life.

Blasting a promotional video that every Terp student has come to recognize, the red wave of student sections slowly rose, bated breaths awaiting the weekly tradition.

Starting at the top of the section, the Maryland state flag slowly began to funnel its way down the assembled fans, an all-encompassing blanket of red, black and gold. Students and cheerleaders held the 86-foot flag by the edges, and when it finally reached the bottom, mayhem ensued.

“I was in shock, I ain’t going to lie to you,” Cincinnati transfer cornerback Ja’Quan Sheppard said of watching the flag drop for the first time in his collegiate career.

“You know it’s coming, but when this flag just appears, it’s like a magic trick,” said Maryland’s Senior Associate Athletic Director Carrie Blankenship.

Before its launch a decade ago, the flag drop had long been a dream for the athletic department’s marketing team, but one that was deemed unrealistic largely due to price and logistics. The idea had lost steam until donor Susan Wilkes spearheaded the funds to purchase the flag. Debuting in 2013, the flag drop has remained a part of Maryland football and basketball games ever since.

Beyond just a unique tradition, the drop has become tied to the turnaround that head coach Mike Locksley has executed, a change that is deeply rooted in the appreciation of the DMV area.

The Maryland state flag has been a staple of the football program for years. In 2011, Maryland debuted state flag-themed uniforms and helmets. But the uniforms signified dark times for the program, as over the next five seasons, the Terps went 23-60.

In 2018, offensive lineman Jordan McNair died of heat stroke after participating in a team workout. McNair’s death and the school’s subsequent investigation led to the firing of then-head coach D.J. Durkin.

Game attendance dropped significantly, leading to the decline in the spectacle around the flag drop performance. According to Blankenship, it got so bad that university employees would be forced to ask fans in the general public section to come assist in the drop.

The program slowly began to rebuild, starting with the hiring of Locksley, formerly the offensive coordinator for Alabama, in December 2018. Hailing from Washington, D.C, and with past experience as Maryland’s running backs coach and offensive coordinator, Locksley made it a point of emphasis to embrace Maryland’s brand as the flagship university of the state.

“There’s nothing like a coach who embraces the state,” said Blankenship.

Locksley said it started with energizing the fan base. The head coach’s profile picture on social media includes a massive state flag draped over his shoulder, indicating his deep ties to the state.

“It’s good for Maryland; it’s good for us to showcase the university; and it’s good for us to showcase the things we have here in the DMV area,” Locksley said.

Additionally, the head coach has made it a priority to recruit in the local area. On the current roster, the Terps feature 54 players whose hometown is in either Maryland or Washington, D.C. In Maryland’s new athletic facility, the Jones-Hill Fieldhouse, there is a wall titled “Power of the DMV”, which showcases some of the top local talent from the area.

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Courtesy of Carrie Blankenship

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Courtesy of Carrie Blankenship

One of those players is sophomore running back Roman Hemby of Edgewood, Maryland, about an hour from College Park. The All-Big Ten honorable mention grew up with a passionate Terp fan as a father, despite the program’s down years. But the Maryland native has made it a point to try and keep other players “home”.

“I feel like just playing for the name that’s on the front of the jersey, you know, being from Maryland and playing for Maryland,” Hemby said. “It gives me a certain sense of pride that makes me want to stay home and it makes me play a little harder because I’m representing my hometown.”

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With the rise in local recruiting, Blankenship and the marketing team have made it a point to promote the university’s unique identity. With no other power-five college in the state, using the flag in merchandise, promotional videos and more has become commonplace.

The connection between the Maryland state flag and the University of Maryland has become increasingly synonymous in people’s minds, says Blankenship. While that comes with positives and negatives — the university does not have the flag trademarked — it does create a sense of local pride within the community.

“It’s like reminding fans that this is the high school player that they grew up down the street from,” Blankenship said of advertising strategy. “Here’s your chance to support the local guy; that’s just at the college down the street.”

Terp fans seemed to have responded, as Maryland players believe that crowd engagement has felt different in recent years. While some of that growth can be attributed to the success of the program on the field, credit can also be given to the increased DMV connection to the university.

“I’ve been able to see the progress in fan turnout and interactions… a little bit in the few years that I’ve been here,” Hemby said.

In Locksley’s time, Maryland has emerged as one of the conference’s best teams, winning eight games in 2022 for the first time since 2010, when the Terrapins went 9-4 as members of the ACC. But beyond the field and into the stands, the athletic department hopes that the flag drop becomes recognized as one of college football’s top traditions.

“I think that tradition is something that is here to stay,” Blankenship said. “I think that it just really embodies a lot in terms of Maryland pride.”

How to Watch Charlotte vs Maryland Saturday on NBC and Peacock

  • Date: Saturday, September 9th
  • Time: 7:30pm ET (Pregame coverage begins at 7pm ET)
  • TV Network: NBC
  • Streaming: Peacock

About the Author
Sam Jane is a sophomore at the University of Maryland, majoring in journalism and pursuing a career in sports or political journalism. Additionally, Sam writes for the Washington Post as a High school sports beat writer and the Diamondback as the Maryland women’s basketball beat reporter. With a strong passion for telling stories that intersect between sports and themes in society, Sam is excited to take the next step in his journalism career.