Local safety tandem Beau Brade, Dante Trader lead Maryland football’s secondary in 2023

Maryland returns a trio of key pieces from last year’s secondary, but they’ll have some experience to overcome after watching Deonte Banks and Jakorian Bennett hear their names called on day one and two of the 2023 NFL Draft. Maryland also replaced Wes Neighbors with Zac Spavital in the spring as the former Texas State defensive coordinator inherits an experienced tandem in Dante Trader Jr. and Beau Brade.

Head coach Mike Locksley and cornerbacks coach Henry Baker also wasted no time exploring the portal, plucking former Cincinnati cornerback Ja’Quan Sheppard over UCF before enrolling in College Park in January. Sheppard, a fourth-year senior, wrapped up his first full season as a starter with the Bearcats after finishing with 50 tackles, ten pass deflections and a sack.

Still and Sheppard enter the 2023 season with experience, but the cornerback room returns experience in the rotation with Corey Coley and Gavin Gibson in the rotation one season ago along with Lionell Whitaker and Perry Fisher making strides into their second seasons. Maryland also welcomes a trio of freshmen in Kevis Thomas, Jonathan Akins and Mykel Morman to the cornerback room.

The starting safety tandem of Brade and Trader gives ample confidence to the backline with Brade’s reliability in the open field coupled with Trader’s range, but the confidence doesn’t just extend to their on-field talent. While Brade enters his senior season, the local safety tandem enters their third year together and the similarities in their character have driven them closer through their college careers.

“We had a good relationship through the first couple of years, me trying to teach him some things,” Brade said. “Us both being hard workers, getting extra work after practice every day. We’ll go out together, we’ll vacation together.”

When Trader made the decision to suit up for lacrosse in the spring, Brade took advantage of watching his roommate in action. “I go to all the lacrosse games. We’re even more than brothers,” he added.

The duo saw their roles increase through the 2021 season as they began getting in-game experience behind Nick Cross and Jordan Mosley before transitioning to full-time starters in 2022. Before stepping into those elevated roles, Brade credited the consistency to their craft as the reason why they gelled so quickly.

“We’re almost the same person. We have the same goals in life. The way we go about, we carry ourselves very similar and our work ethic. That makes the bonding stronger. He’s going to be my roommate this upcoming season and then we’re business partners. We’re with each other every day and that’s really why our bond is so strong.”

Trader’s work ethic was evident in the spring as he juggled football and lacrosse simultaneously.

“I was pretty involved with the football side more than I had to be because they know, I’ve said the whole time, I’m very extreme,” he said. “I was getting up at 6 AM with my guys, lifting throughout the season, meeting with my coaches individually. I was helping the young players while still being able to do everything I got to do with lacrosse, so I was balancing that.”

The return of Brade and Trader gives Maryland’s secondary experience, but it also gives the backline a potential future NFL duo with Brade entering the fall surrounded by draft buzz. Phil Steele ranked the former River Hill star the second-best draft-eligible strong safety heading into the season, potentially becoming the second Maryland safety drafted in the last three years.

“I know he has another year of eligibility but the way we’re working, we’re working on the season but also making each other better. Whatever comes with it, comes with it,” Brade added.

Maryland replaced Isaiah Hazel with former Miami (FL) safety Avantae Williams, who is also a candidate to slide into the nickel, while veteran Glen Miller returns for another season. Like the young wave emerging in the cornerback room, Maryland added a pair of early enrollees in former three-stars Tamarcus Cooley and Tayvon Nelson, while Alex Moore joined the program ahead of summer workouts. Lavain Scruggs also returns for his second season with the program to round out the room.

Defensive coordinator Brian Williams is looking for his pair of starting safeties to bring the next wave along.

“They can shed their light and their knowledge on those guys tenfold and they don’t have a problem doing it. They’re good players, they’re good people and they believe in what we’re doing,” Williams said. “The speed of the pack is determined by the speed of the leaders.”

While Maryland returns experience and versatility in the defensive back room, the unit will look to take the next step in one glaring category: turnovers.

What Maryland did well last season was generating pass breakups with Jakorian Bennett leading all FBS players over the last two seasons with 29. Deonte Banks more than left his mark, leaving ample production for the current unit to replace.

The Terps, meanwhile, generated just nine interceptions and tied for Rutgers for the fourth-fewest last season. The emergence of Sheppard gives the unit its shutdown corner, while Still will look to capitalize in year four, but flipping the script and adding momentum plays on defense will be a priority for Maryland this fall.

Trader will look for the defense to improve its efficiency in key situations.

“We’ve got to get off the field on third downs. We’ve got to limit the explosive plays, limit and contain, things like that,” he said. “Just controlling the explosive plays because that’s what hurt us.”

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