Terps' Leak, Brown draw from year off

When it comes to the most anticipated openers for the 2014 college football season, the Maryland-James Madison game at Byrd Stadium won't make many lists.

But for two Terrapins players, it marks the final step in a long road back. Wide receiver Marcus Leak and running back Wes Brown won't be making their college debuts Saturday. Brown was Maryland's second-leading rusher in 2012; Leak was the team's No. 2 receiver.

The first-game-like jitters likely will be there, though, after both men spent last season away from the school.

"I'm excited right now," Leak told ESPN.com this week. "When the time gets here, I don’t know how I'm going feel. I might be just overwhelmed to be back in that environment, Byrd Stadium.

"We'll just see when the day comes."

Different circumstances led to Brown's and Leak's departures from Maryland. Last July, Brown was charged with assault, theft and wiretapping after an altercation with a Baltimore police detective. He was being questioned as a person of interest in a shooting investigation. Maryland immediately suspended Brown, and though the charges against him were dropped, he accepted a one-year ban from the school with a chance to shorten it to one semester. He was reinstated in January.

About a month before Brown's arrest, Leak withdrew from Maryland, citing personal reasons that he still does not wish to disclose. He was in good academic standing at the time of his exit and spent the year back home in North Carolina, taking classes at a local community college. Like Brown, Leak returned to Maryland in January.

"You can see from being away that they've grown and matured and developed," coach Randy Edsall said. "They understand why they were away and are grateful to be back."

Edsall kept in touch with Brown throughout his time away and never doubted that the running back would return to Maryland. The school laid out a plan to become reinstated, and Brown followed each step.

"Even during the process when he was away, I could see a different person," Edsall said. "As he got back here, he's done everything that we've asked. He's done well in the classroom. I'm very proud of him. He made a mistake, he paid his dues for it and you can see he’s a better man because of what he's gone through."

Edsall actually initiated Leak's departure, telling the player and his parents that he needed some time at home if he ultimately wanted to succeed at Maryland. In Edsall's view, Leak wasn't responding well to those who held him accountable. He needed to reassess his priorities.

In his conversations with Leak, Edsall repeatedly told the player that he wanted him back at Maryland. But only after he left.

"It wasn't the easiest thing to do," Edsall said. "I felt that the only way that I had a chance to make an impact on him. During the time he was away, I could tell there was a difference. When he was here, you'd bring him into the office and could barely get him to communicate and to talk, but then when he was back in North Carolina last fall, we talked and it was hard to get him off the phone."

Leak spent Saturdays last fall watching his older brother, Maurice, play quarterback for the University of Charleston. He also caught Maryland games on TV whenever he could.

It wasn't easy.

"I felt like I should have been there," he said. "I wanted to be with my teammates. But after a while, I just accepted that going home was best for me. That's where I needed to be."

Leak made several trips to Maryland during his absence and remained in close contact with teammates, especially Brown, one of his best friends on the squad.

"We were pretty much going through the same thing, being away from the team," Leak said. "We were just keeping each other's spirits up."

Both are now back on the field, but where do they fit? Wide receiver and running back might be Maryland's two deepest positions entering the 2014 season.

Brandon Ross separated himself as the Terrapins' top running back in camp while Brown, who had 382 rushing yards in eight games in 2012, will enter the season as the third-stringer. Leak showed big-play ability in 2012, averaging 17.1 yards per reception.

He could occupy the No. 3 receiver role, but it's a very crowded group.

"They’re going to be contributors for us this year," Edsall said of Leak and Brown. "They've proven they can play at this level and be very successful. You can see their productivity coming up."

More than anything, Leak's time away helped him realize what he was missing.

"You can't take things for granted," he said. "I matured and I appreciate everything this school has to offer.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."