Octavian Smith, Jaquan Sheppard praise coaching and progress through spring ball

Maryland football wraps up its spring game this weekend as a healthy mix of new and returning faces lead Maryland into year five of the Mike Locksley era. Maryland added firepower to its wide receiver room with the additions of Kaden Prather and Tyrese Chambers, while Jeshaun Jones returns for a sixth season to anchor a veteran room. Maryland is also bringing along a host of underclassmen receivers as they replenish the future room, but former four-star prospect and Paint Branch star Octavian Smith is already making a name for himself in College Park.

Smith, a shifty 6-foot-1 wideout, got a chance to dip his feet into college football last season after posting seven catches for 113 yards and one touchdown over the last two games. After first making the adjustment from the quarterback at Paint Branch to receiver at Maryland, the former four-star prospect is adding to his repertoire as he steps into a feature role in a veteran room.

“I’ve been playing more outside receiver so I’ve been expanding there, working on releases and things like that but going into the season, I’ll be playing inside and outside,” Smith said.

Watching his veteran quarterback return for his fourth season has helped give the offense momentum to build on heading into summer. “I’d say the biggest stride that we made offensively is I’d say playing more collectively. Everybody’s building chemistry between the quarterback, the team leader coming back, and all the new receivers. Like throughout theoff season before spring ball, we will all like stay after in the indoor and build that chemistry working on Lia getting a feel for all of us,” Smith added.

Maryland fans will get a chance to watch their two draft-eligible cornerbacks hear their names called likely on consecutive days when the NFL Draft begins on Thursday, but new cornerback Jaquan Sheppard joined the program in January to fill the void left opposite of Tarheeb Still.

After playing behind current New York Jet cornerback ‘Sauce’ Gardner for his first three seasons before stepping in as a starter in 2022, Sheppard is getting acclimated to the new pace in College Park. “It’s just been crazy. I mean, like everything is a little different coming from a different system and everything in the back,” Sheppard added. “Plays and players and everything like that. It’s been cool, though.”

Getting acclimated to the different scheme has been another adjustment for Sheppard. “When I was at Cincinnati, I played strictly press men or press everything. I get here, I gotta play a little off and it’s a little different with my feet and things like that.”

With one practice left ahead of the spring game, Sheppard cited his mom’s chance to watch him play as a primary reason why he opted for Maryland out of the transfer portal while his connection with a pair of veterans kept him in College Park. “My biggest thing, my mom, she lives in Virginia, it’s close to me. 30 minutes, so she can be able to watch me play in person. A lot more than what she was on when I was at Cincinnati. The system. Coach Locks, he showed me some stuff that like, I was like, okay, I’m trying to, I’m trying to be a part of that as well. And then, you know, I knew some of the players like Jeshaun [Jones] and Fa’Najae [Gotay]. We played together in high school and things like that too, so that was a big piece.”

Sheppard will now be leaned on as a dependable veteran in a secondary that returns ample experience and cornerbacks coach Henry Baker has elevated his expectations for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior. “Baker] challenges me a lot. He expects me to know a lot, which I like that. It’s a lot of pressure. We’re seven months away almost and he just challenged me in ways that I appreciate him challenging me, you know, as well as like I’m new here and I don’t know a lot of stuff that they do, but I’ve been playing football so it’s just like everything is the same, just different words.”

Sheppard’s goal for Saturday is simple: “I’m trying to make the most plays.”

“That’s the biggest thing. Locking down on my side and getting everything locked down on my side, that’s the biggest thing, just locking my side down. When the players come, they come, making plays in front of a new crowd, obviously,” he added. “My family’s coming, so I’m excited for that as well.”

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