On the first possession of Maryland football's annual spring game April 27, rising redshirt sophomore running back Anthony McFarland broke off a 34-yard touchdown run. Two possessions later, junior running back Javon Leake took a handoff from 3 yards out and dove for the pylon to give his team a 14-0 lead.
That one-two punch of McFarland and Leake is expected to be a common occurrence this fall for the Terps.
While McFarland, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2018, is expected to be the No. 1 back in a crowded running back room, Leake has shown his big-play ability, according to first-year running backs coach Elijah Brooks.
"Obviously with the year Anthony McFarland had [in 2018], everybody is aware of him, but Javon Leake, he can match all of Anthony's big plays," Brooks said. "That is a tremendous weapon to have. He can score from anywhere on the field. ... As a kick returner, punt returner, he can add that element to it."
"Phenomenal, phenomenal, phenomenal player," Brooks added.
Leake touched the ball just nine times as a freshman for a total of 99 yards, the majority of which came on a 61-yard touchdown run during the season opener against Towson.
As a sophomore, he was rarely listed on Maryland's depth chart behind McFarland, junior Tayon Fleet-Davis and recently departed Ty Johnson. Leake's production did increase, though, as he averaged 9.1 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns, the most among running backs.
His breakout game came against Illinois Oct. 27 when he rushed for 140 yards on just five carries, three of which went for touchdowns of 27, 43 and 64 yards in a 63-33 win. He also broke off a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown 30 seconds into the game against the Illini.
Leake has most often seen the field on special teams, returning 29 kicks in his career for an average of 22.1 yards per return.
Leake said his first two seasons were trying at times, but he remained patient, staying ready for the chance to show the talents he knew he possessed.
"That was definitely motivation, seeing all the other backs getting in the game and seeing them do what they do," Leake said. "... I learned a lot about myself actually going through all of that. But I knew what type of player I was, I knew I could bring something to the table, I just needed the opportunity.
"The whole new coaching staff came in, it's a fresh start. Forget everything that happened last year and just start fresh with these new coaches and show them what you can do."
Now entering his third season, Leake is no longer considered a backup buried in the depth chart, first-year head coach Mike Locksley said.
"We don't look at him as a two, we feel like he's a 1A and a 1B [with McFarland]," Locksley said following the Terps' first full scrimmage of the spring April 13. "[He] can hit the home run as a runner."
With so much talent in the running backs room -- which includes McFarland, Leake, Fleet-Davis, senior Ikechukwu Ogwuegbu and redshirt juniors Jake Funk and Lorenzo Harrison III -- one might think the competition could lead to hard feelings. But Locksley said there is a "mutual respect" among the players because of their shared experience.
"The long hours, the hard work in the weight room and the conditioning program kind of forges really strong relationships," Locksley said. "Obviously, I want the competition there and I want them each to want to be the guy. They've got a lot of trust in us as coaches that we're going to find ways to utilize all their talents to help us be a successful team.
"That room as a whole is really, really talented. It really has created a nice niche in there and it'll be an issue for us to figure how to use all these guys."
With spring practice having concluded and several months remaining before the team reconvenes for summer workouts, the team's depth chart is far from solidified, especially at running back position. Leake, McFarland and Fleet Davis had the majority of the carries in the spring game, and Harrison and Funk were nursing injuries all spring.
All five could conceivably compete for playing time this fall.
"There's like six of us and we're all freaking really good," Leake said. "Coming to practice every day you just got to remember that everybody in the room is good so you just got to show up with your 'A' game. We support each. There's a lot of competition, but it's brotherhood too."
Regardless of which running back is getting reps in practice or scrimmages, the mantra remains the same between Leake and his teammates: "Do what you do."
"If Tayon goes in, I'll be like, 'Come on, Fleet, do what you do.' If Ant goes in I say the same thing for him because we all know what we can do," Leake said. "We know we can help this offense score a lot of points. There's no hate, there's no jealousy between us. It's all just a close bond, and I think that really helps us when it comes to going on the field and competing against other teams."
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