Stefon Diggs growing into even bigger role at Maryland
Stefon Diggs is trying to find the balance. He's trying to be everything, do everything, please everyone, all at once. Since his arrival in College Park, Md., last fall, Diggs has been asked to play a variety of roles for the Terrapins. And coming off a phenomenal high school career, he's been expected to succeed right away.
Diggs is a receiver, return man, rushing threat and, occasionally, a passer. But he's more than that. He's also a student, aspiring leader, local boy made good and family man. For a 19-year-old college kid, that's a lot to take on.
This offseason, however, Diggs is looking to become something else. He's learning to become a technician, a buzzword around the Maryland program and a title that encompasses doing all the little things necessary to perfect one's craft. "As you progress in the game you gotta pay closer attention to detail because it's not all about athleticism," said Diggs. "You get to a point where everybody's athletic and everybody is capable of making a play. So you gotta separate yourself from everybody else."
Long known as a dazzling playmaker and the flashy kid with an infectious smile, Diggs is working to make himself complete. But to do that, to truly unlock his potential, Diggs first needs to understand how.
"Last year for him, it was just knowing what to do," said Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. "Now the key is knowing how to do it, and based on all the different things that people are gonna do to defend him. He's not a secret anymore to defensive gameplans."
If you didn't watch the Terps much last season -- and if you live outside the DMV area, chances are you didn't -- you might not be aware of the things Diggs can do with the football. He's a game-breaker in the truest sense, a player head coach Randy Edsall said has, "capabilities that you don't teach." Take a few moments to watch his 56-yard touchdown at West Virginia, his 63-yard catch-and-run against Wake Forest and his 103-yard kickoff return at Virginia. He routinely makes defenders look helpless, as if they're Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner, woefully overmatched in a glorified game of tag.
Yet despite Diggs' open-field elusiveness, Maryland floundered in 2012. The Terps lost their final six games to finish 4-8, and their offense tallied just 3,417 total yards, the fewest in the FBS. Diggs, who finished with 848 receiving yards and six touchdowns, accounted for 970 of that total. (Diggs also amassed 934 yards and two touchdowns as an electric return man.) Most of the blame for Maryland's offensive ineptitude goes to the rash of injuries that decimated the team's quarterback depth -- after fourth-stringer Caleb Rowe went down with a torn ACL at Boston College, converted linebacker Shawn Petty became the de facto starter -- but inexperience across the roster plagued the team in tight games.
Diggs hopes his steady progression will help. He spent this spring working with Locksley and receivers coach Lee Hull to master the tricks of the trade, from extending his third-down routes a few yards past the first-down marker to subtlety disguising his patterns off the line of scrimmage. He's added seven pounds of muscle to improve his efficiency as a blocker, and he's made an effort to establish rapports with quarterbacks Ricardo Young and C.J. Brown; Young connected with Diggs eight times for 151 yards and a touchdown in the team's spring game on April 12. "You don't know who's gonna be the quarterback," said Diggs, "so I'm gonna try to get balls from both guys as much as I can."
Here's what Diggs does know: With lingering questions at quarterback and running back -- Brandon Ross started the final three games last season, while Wes Brown is rehabbing from labrum and ankle injuries -- Diggs could be asked to assume a greater position of leadership. He can't be all flash anymore. Heading into his sophomore year, he'll be counted on to mature. "It really doesn't matter class or school year," said Locksley. "Stefon's a guy we hope can develop into being a leader."
A few years ago, Diggs likely wouldn't have been up to the task. Like many other sought after prospects, Diggs needed time for his attitude to catch up to his athleticism. While at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Md., Diggs got into an altercation with a classmate and was suspended for a nationally televised game against rival DeMatha (Md.) High on Oct. 2, 2008. As a junior and senior, his recruitment morphed into a long and publicly drawn-out affair; reports linked him with Florida, Ohio State and Auburn before he eventually pledged to the hometown Terps at Looney's Pub in College Park last February.
Recently, though, he's been focused. He's spent more time in the film room, deepened his commitment to his teammates and strengthened relationships with his family, particularly his younger brother, Trevon, an emerging wideout at nearby Wootton (Md.) High. By putting in the work to match the hype, Diggs has gained an added measure of respect in the locker room. "He'll speak up but he's also really trying to be a leader by example in terms of how hard he works, the effort that he gives," said Edsall. "Those are the things that I think he's working even harder at to develop himself in total as a leader."
Despite all of his roles, however, Diggs is above all a competitor. Locksley calls him "as competitive a guy as I've ever coached or been around," and likes to talk about how Diggs regularly turns pre-practice warmup sprints into footraces for bragging rights. The 6-foot-1, 193-pounder bounds across the field, jaunting past challengers and outrunning teammates as he would defenders from Clemson or NC State.
"I'm gonna compete in everything I do," said Diggs. "If you're trying to tie your shoe right next to me, I'm gonna try to tie my shoe faster."
That mentality has served Diggs well. Only now, he's grasping how to most effectively channel it.
After reflecting on his first-year accomplishments, Diggs took a moment to pause. He ticked off his goals for the upcoming season, both on the field and in the community. Then he delivered the type of statement that shows he is starting to become a technician after all.
"It's a competition with me, and I think it's a competition in life," Diggs said. "But sometimes you gotta learn to just fall into line. ... I can still be competitive and have my competitive nature on the field as I'm learning."