COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — It’s taken freshman Stefon Diggs only four games to establish himself as a standout receiver, sensational kick returner and sideline cheerleader.
Given the fashion in which he’s adapted to the college game at Maryland, there’s no telling how good Diggs will be as a senior — if he sticks around that long.
“Four years is the plan,” Diggs said Tuesday. “If that changes, I’ll let you guys know.”
A five-star prospect coming out of Good Counsel (Md.) High School, Diggs has already justified the hype. He ranks second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 160 1/2 all-purpose yards per game and leads the Terrapins in touchdowns (three) and yards receiving (259).
“I’ve never played with anyone like him,” said Maryland defensive end A.J. Francis, a fifth-year senior. “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen. He does things on the field not a lot of other people can do. A lot of the plays he makes, there’s no other word for it but unbelievable. He’s so good as a freshman, it’s hard to believe.”
In his first game, Diggs caught three passes for 30 yards and returned three punts for 50 yards to help Maryland beat William & Mary. At West Virginia two weeks ago, the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder had three catches for 113 yards and scored twice.
“He’s a quick study,” coach Randy Edsall said. “If he makes a mistake, he’ll come over and tell you what he did wrong. Then he’s going to give you everything he’s got on the next play.”
There seems to be no limit on the number of ways in which Diggs contributes to the team.
“Probably the most impressive thing about Stefon is how he’s handled himself and how he’s been a leader on the field and off the field as well,” Edsall said. “You have to be there to really see it. On the sidelines, when the offense isn’t on the field, he’s cheerleading, helping guys along, very upbeat, very positive.”
When he’s on the field, Diggs is a threat to score on every play. The Terrapins (2-2) open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Wake Forest (2-3, 1-2) on Saturday, and the Demon Deacons will spending plenty of time this week devising a plan to contain Diggs.
Jimmy Newman, who handles kickoffs for Wake Forest, knows the best way to stop Diggs is to boot the ball out of the end zone. Anything short of that could be trouble.
“Anytime you’ve got a really good returner back there, like Maryland does … there’s a lot more big-play potential there,” Newman said. “A little mistake on a kickoff can turn into a big one.”
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said of Diggs: “He’s just electric. He’s got the great foot speed. He’s the home-run hitter on that offense. But he really concerns you on special teams. He’s really electric returning punts and kicks. It puts a lot of pressure on your cover teams.”
Diggs doesn’t like to make a fair catch because he considers it to be a wasted opportunity. On most occasions, his instincts are on target.
“A lot of times he’ll catch the ball on the 3-yard line, and anyone else you’d go,`Why are you catching that punt?”‘ Francis said. “With Stefon it’s,`Let’s see what he does.”‘
Terps offensive lineman Bennett Fulper said, “It seems like the more he touches the ball, the more likely something big is going to happen.”
After helping Good Counsel go 12-0 during his senior season, Diggs received dozens of scholarship offers from major college football schools. He picked Maryland, even though the Terrapins went 2-10 in Edsall’s first year on the job.
“No regrets at all,” Diggs said. “When I was coming in, I knew I could accomplish all my goals here and get a great degree. We’ve had a lot of receivers who have gone into the NFL — Torrey Smith, (Darrius) Heyward-Bey. Good season, bad season? It’s all a process. You’ve got to start somewhere. I pride myself in starting from the bottom up. It all worked out.”
Much like his decision to become a wide receiver at Good Counsel.
“All my life I played running back. When I got to high school I was kind of tall and I wasn’t as thick as I should be, so I tried out at receiver,” Diggs said. “So I’m kind of like a running back playing receiver out there. I work hard, I work out, I train my body the right way — I put the right things in it.”
Still, it’s hard to believe how quickly Diggs adjusted to playing big-time college football and taking a full class load in his first semester at college.
“I’m surprised how I’ve played thus far. I didn’t think it would go this good,” he said. “Something I didn’t expect is not enough sleep. You grind every day. I take pride in what I do, so I put a lot of effort into it.”
Asked if he envisions a future in the NFL, Diggs replied, “That’s the plan.”
But he added, “Things don’t always go as planned, so I’m going to still get my education, You’ve got to have a backup plan. I’m interested in psychology and sociology. I don’t know what I want to do yet, but I know I want to impact the youth. That’s where it all starts at. If you can impact children when they’re young, hopefully I can change their lives.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)