When an entirely new coaching staff takes over a program that went 3-9 the previous year, position coaches probably don't have many players entrenched in starting positions. Dave Borbely, hired in January to be Maryland head coach DJ Durkin's offensive line coach, didn't have a set offensive line, but he did have one luxury.
Borbely's left tackle, Michael Dunn, is a fifth-year senior who has missed just one start during his entire college career. One of Borbely's first tasks was getting to know the 6-foot-5, 300-pound Bethesda, Md., native, who Borbely could tell right away had the physical traits of a prototypical, veteran left tackle.
"When he told me he was a former walk-on, I almost fell off my chair. I was like, ‘You've got to be [kidding] me, bro,'" Borbely said at Maryland's media day Aug. 16. "So he started telling me his story, and it was pretty cool -- just about how he viewed himself after that first year and what he figured out he needed to do. He was a very impressive guy."
Before he got to College Park, Md., Dunn honed his craft at Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County with little fanfare. His profile page on Rivals.com doesn't include a star rating, much less a ranking nationally or in the state of Maryland. He didn't have any Division I scholarship offers.
Dunn enrolled at Maryland and walked on to the Terps in 2012, redshirting and serving on the scout team. At the time, Dunn said there was "no expectation of what I might do." He was told by former head coach Randy Edsall's staff he could possibly play at Maryland in the future if he put in the required work.
Dunn said he saw what he needed to do to play at the Division I level, and at Maryland specifically. The next summer, in 2013, Dunn had what he terms a "pretty good" training camp -- good enough to earn not just a scholarship from Edsall but also a starting position along the offensive line.
"It was a moment I'll never forget. It was pretty emotional," Dunn said of learning he had earned a scholarship. "I was always confident with myself that I'd eventually play here, but I never thought that I was going to be playing so early in my career, so it was quite the surprise for me when Coach Edsall told me that I was starting and I had a scholarship. It was a great moment."
Though Edsall's teams largely struggled, Dunn thrived once he got on the field. He started nine games at right guard and four games at right tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2013. He started 10 games at left tackle and three games at the other tackle spot in 2014.
Last year, he started the Terps' first 11 games at left tackle before missing the final game of the season at Rutgers with a high ankle sprain. Add it all up, and it was a streak of 37 straight starts.
"Being an offensive lineman, we don't have stats such as interceptions or rushing yards. The proof is kind of in the number of starts," Terps sophomore right tackle Damian Prince said. "With 37 starts, it'll be close to 50-something by the end of this season. It's just incredible."
Dunn said he injured his ankle during the Terps' 24-7 loss to Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich., Nov. 14. He tried to play through the injury during Maryland's next game, a 47-28 loss to Indiana in College Park Nov. 21, but aggravated it just before halftime when his ankle was stepped on. Dunn said he "was barely able to walk, and after that; I just couldn't really do it."
The inability to walk is one of the few things that can force Dunn off the field. He doesn't mind playing through pain, and he takes pride in being a staple of the Terps' offense.
"Whether it was some sort of ankle, some sort of finger or back or just something, I've been in pain. But you've got to be able to fight through that," Dunn said. "It's not really unless you're actually injured, that's the only reason why you should miss a game. I just feel if you're hurting a bit ... that's no reason to miss one of the few opportunities of going out there and playing the game you love on a weekly basis."
As such, Dunn has the undying respect of his teammates, particularly the ones with whom he shares the offensive line, and his coaches. But it's not just Dunn's durability and reliability that catches his teammates' and coaches' eyes. It's also his work ethic on the practice field and the way he conducts himself off the field.
"You can't tell whether it was the start of practice or the end of practice when you watch film on him," Durkin said.
"He's a pro's pro -- the way he works, the way he takes notes, the way he learns, the way he approaches practice every day," Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell said. "I think, more than anything, especially in modern society, physical actions are lacking, and he's the opposite. He's a worker, and I think kids respect that."
"You just look at him as a model for the team," Maryland junior left guard Mike Minter said. "That's the kind of guy I want to play next to. That's the kind of guy I want to be on the field and off the field, as well."
This year, Dunn is once again the starting left tackle for the Terps, leading an otherwise green offensive line. During Maryland's season-opening 52-13 win against Howard Sept. 3, Maryland started Minter at left guard, sophomore Brendan Moore at center, senior Maurice Shelton at right guard and Prince at right tackle. Those four only had a combined 12 starts entering the season.
Maryland is emphasizing a high-tempo spread offense under Bell, who likes to run the ball in a variety of ways with a host of running backs. The offensive linemen have to be in terrific shape to handle the pace, the amount of snaps and array of running plays the Terps want this season.
"We're not really the type of team that could run power down people's throats like Michigan State and Wisconsin, but I think this offense fits us perfectly," Dunn said. "I think we have a bunch of really athletic offensive linemen who could get out in space, and I think we’re in the best shape that we’ve ever been in. We’re all really conditioned from a very well-run offseason program by [strength and conditioning coach Rick Court]."
Issue 225: September 2016