This is not at all how Maryland hoped to send off its 17 seniors — mired in a four-game losing streak and trying to make a final stand in a season characterized by injuries and two particularly wrenching losses.
After Maryland went 2-10 last season, senior starters Joe Vellano, A.J. Francis, Kenneth Tate, Kevin Dorsey and others imagined that their final seasons would coincide with a turnaround performance punctuated by a bowl game.
But if college is partly about learning life lessons, then this year's was that things don't always go as expected.
"The season didn't unfold the way we planned it to," defensive lineman A.J. Francis said as the Terps (4-6, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepared for their Senior Day game against heavily favored No. 10 Florida State (9-1, 6-1 ACC), which has won 20 of 22 meetings between the teams.
The seniors will be introduced before Saturday's game at Byrd Stadium. Most will be accompanied by family members. The Terps have one more game after Saturday — against North Carolina — but this is the last home contest.
"I would love to see the place filled this weekend to pay respect to these seniors and also to this team for how they are battling and handling everything that has happened to them," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said.
Francis, tight end Devonte Campbell and other seniors gathered in the Gossett Football Team House on Tuesday to talk to media members not only about the game and the season, but their careers. The mood was somber and reflective — nostalgic, even — and some of the players spoke in lowered voices.
"It's just weird to look back and realize that it's all behind you," said Francis, who — like other members of his class — played for two head coaches and three coordinators. "It's just weird — there's no other way to put it."
With two games remaining this year, Maryland is 25-35 since the 2008 season began. Francis — and several other seniors who redshirted their first year — was at Maryland for five seasons. The Terps played in the Humanitarian Bowl following the 2008 season and in the Military Bowl in 2010. The players endured a coaching change when Edsall replaced Ralph Friedgen after the Military Bowl was over.
This season, Maryland has had nine season-ending injuries — including four quarterback starters. Maryland lost back-to-back games to North Carolina State and Boston College by a total of five points and hasn't won since.
"It didn't quite go the way I wanted it to go," Campbell said of his five years. "I went to two bowl games. I've been part of some great teams. There's lessons learned in everything. I've enjoyed the rollercoaster. As crazy as it's been, I've enjoyed it. I take it as a stepping stone for life."
In the absence of ACC championships — the Terps last won one in 2001 — the seniors were asked about the moments most likely to remain with them.
"There's been a lot of good memories," Francis said. "My best personal moment was probably being able to have Coach Friedgen go out with a victory [over East Carolina] in the Military Bowl. The fourth-down stop to win the game versus Navy [at M&T Bank Stadium in 2010]. Beating N.C. State at Byrd [in 2010]. Being able to beat Virginia twice. That's always a good feeling being able to go into Charlottesville and give them what they deserve. "
Tate has also said that his fourth-down, goal-line stop on Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs in 2010 was a career highlight. There were 37 seconds remaining when the play began, and Maryland ran out the clock on a 17-14 victory.
Campbell said he'll never forget his first touchdown reception — an 18-yarder from C.J. Brown against Temple in 2011.
"It was one of those moments where it was kind of surreal for a second," Campbell said. "It had been a long time since I'd been in the end zone. It was also C.J's first touchdown [pass] and we've got the same birthday, so it was kind of like some type of weird connection. That's my one moment that I'll never forget."
Said Edsall: "It is always a sad day as a coach when you have that last home game. It gets emotional because of the attachment and ties that you build with these young men."
Notes: Edsall said Maryland would need to avoid turnovers and play "a perfect game" to defeat the Seminoles, who have won four in a row. The coach said he was hopeful that injured running back Wes Brown and injured receiver-returner Stefon Diggs could play, but that their statuses remain uncertain. Both have ankle injuries.