The night prior to the Maryland football team opening camp for 2021, Taulia Tagovailoa called for a players-only meeting. During the meeting, Tagovailoa emphasized the importance of players sacrificing for each other, as well as putting in as much extra work as possible to succeed.

The junior quarterback is taking strides to establish himself as the Maryland team leader, and the meeting was just a first step in that process — he also had a meeting with just his wide receivers, emphasizing the importance of communication within the huddle.

Many of the Maryland faithful are of the opinion that Tagovailoa can be the star QB the Terps have been waiting for for almost 20 years now. The potential on the field is evident. Now, if he can win over the locker room and take charge, the ripple effect can make the job of head coach Michael Locksley and his staff much easier, and hopefully translate to a stronger recruiting effort.

But will the leadership produce results?

Tagovailoa is entering his 2nd season as the Terps starting QB, having earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season. In his 4 games, he threw for 1,011 yards and 7 touchdowns, with a 61.5% completion percentage, 44 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.

The Terps were surprisingly 2nd in the Big Ten last season in passing yards with 264 per game, even while having one of their top receivers in Jeshaun Jones having to work his way back from an ACL injury.

Last season, the Terps only managed a 2-2 record under Tagovailoa, but using last season as a comparison is difficult with all the pandemic issues that clouded everything. In theory, having a full camp to build relationships and establish leadership roles could help to build around the natural talent that he brings to the Maryland backfield.

2020 saw stellar stats for Tagovailoa, but 2021?

For Locksley and his staff, 2021 is allowing for in-person instruction on a far more comprehensive scale than was allowed last season, when the concerns over the pandemic significantly limited practices.

Locksley has had to frequently remind his players of the foundational tenets of his program, and much of that is focused around the concept of player-focused leadership.

“When we as coaches have to lead, and we have to police, and we have to push, you usually can get some good play out of your team,” Locksley said. “But when it’s player-driven, that’s when you know you have a chance to be great.”

It’s not been difficult to get his players to buy into the message. For one player in particular, look to Tagovailoa.

“Like Coach preaches all the time, no BCEs,” Tagovailoa said. He was referring to the acronym for what Locksley calls “no b—-ing, complaining or excuses.” “Just working every day, so I look at my part as being a leader but also showing it. I feel like I’m less of a talker, but I do have to step into that role of being more vocal.”

Last season, Tagovailoa led the conference in yards per completion (13.5), and followed that with ranking 2nd in passing efficiency (138.5) and yards per attempt (8.3). Where he struggled was in his decision making, as his 7 interceptions were troublesome. Without some improvement in that aspect of his game, the weakness could prove costly.

Passing game is key, due to questions at running back

Now that the Terps leading rusher from last season, Jake Funk, is a member of the Los Angeles Rams, the emphasis on the passing game figures to be a major part of this year’s offensive attack. Funk ran for 516 yards and 3 touchdowns last season, resulting in his landing as a 7th-round pick in the NFL Draft.

According to Locksley, redshirt senior Tayon Fleet-Davis is in line to take the most snaps this time around as the season opens. He ran for 26 yards on 10 carries last season, and was named a preseason candidate for the 2021 Doak Walker Award — an honor which recognizes the nation’s best collegiate running back.

If Fleet-Davis can make an impact, it could take some of the pressure off Tagovailoa.

Terps are deep with pass-catchers

Tagovailoa and the Maryland passing attack have some weapons, led by Biletnikoff Award Watch list candidate Dontay Demus Jr. The senior pulled in 4 touchdowns last season and totaled 365 yards on 24 receptions. All were team highs, and he found the end zone in all 4 of the Terps’ games last season.

Wide receivers Brian Cobbs and Rakim Jarrett are also solid targets for Tagovailoa, both coming off impressive performances in 2020. Cobbs, a senior, pulled in 13 receptions in 2020 for 188 yards and 1 touchdown, while Jarrett had 17 receptions for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns during his freshman campaign.

Locksley is pleased with the strength the Terps have at wide receiver.

“From top to bottom, I think it’s probably the deepest, most talented position on our team,” Locksley said. “And we need those guys to go out and play to their ability because we’re going to lean on our playmakers. As we go into training camp, we always try to identify who are our playmakers on offense, defense and special teams and find ways to keep them involved.”

Familiar coaching will likely help, but can lightning strike twice?

Locksley brought in a familiar face to his staff this season, with the hiring of offensive coordinator Dan Enos. The pair were together on Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama in 2018, when Locksley was the offensive coordinator and Enos served as quarterbacks coach.

That would put the pair at the helm of the Bama offense when Tua Tagovailoa, Taulia’s older brother and current Miami Dolphins quarterback, was the Tide QB. Tua set records for passer rating (199.4) while throwing for 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns over 15 games in Tuscaloosa.

If history has anything to do with the present, the Maryland faithful have reason for hope having the pair together again — and coaching another Tagovailoa at the quarterback position.