During one of the early practices at his first preseason camp with the Maryland football team last year, quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. began to lose count of the mistakes he was making. Inaccurate throws and missed reads, among other breakdowns, led to poor body language and shaken confidence for the transfer from Wake Forest.
Incumbent starter Taulia Tagovailoa took notice, Edwards recalled recently, and instead of allowing the newcomer to wallow further, the program’s most prominent player offered a comforting embrace and words of encouragement. That triggered a bond that grew stronger this year when they were roommates for every road game.
A heartfelt conversation between the close friends took on a similar tenor last week when Tagovailoa revealed he would be opting out of the Music City Bowl to begin preparations for the NFL draft, leaving the starting job to Edwards when the Terrapins face Auburn at 2 p.m. Saturday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
Maryland (7-5) will be playing in a bowl game for the third straight year — the first time it has done that since 2006 to 2008 — after securing a third consecutive winning record thanks to victories in two of its final three regular season games. A victory over the Tigers (6-6) would deliver a bowl win in three straight seasons for the first time in school history.
“I give him a lot of credit from when I came in,” Edwards said of Tagovailoa, the Big Ten leader in career passing yards. “He kind of took me under his wing. I remember my first year here, I was kind of having a rough day, and he put his arm around me. He was like: ‘You’re good, man. Days like this happen.’ … It turned into something we both weren’t expecting, but it’s something I’m very grateful for and will last a lot longer than his time or my time here.”
With Tagovailoa’s record-setting career at Maryland over, Edwards gets another crack at leaving a memorable impression on Coach Michael Locksley and the offensive staff as they seek a replacement for a four-year starter who became the foundation of a rebuild.
Edwards did so initially in October 2022 when he came off the bench in relief of Tagovailoa, who was carted off the field with a leg injury early in the fourth quarter against Indiana. The current redshirt sophomore from Springfield orchestrated a comeback capped by his three-yard touchdown run that produced a 38-33 win on the road.
Edwards made the first start of his career the next week in a 31-24 victory over Northwestern at SECU Stadium. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown without an interception and ran 16 times for 66 yards to help the Terrapins improve to 6-2 and secure bowl eligibility.
“They’re kind of different quarterbacks,” said wide receiver Jeshaun Jones, who leads Maryland in receptions (53) and receiving yards (747). “Billy’s a tough guy, very smart, and he’s a great leader as well. I think he brings a lot of the great leader similarities that [Tagovailoa] had, and I think that will roll over with Billy.”
Edwards played in seven games this year, all as a reserve, but finished with a team-high six rushing touchdowns, including three covering one yard apiece against then-No. 3 Michigan during a 31-24 loss in College Park on Nov. 18. He became the first Terrapins quarterback with three rushing touchdowns in a game since 2014.
Listed at 6-foot-3, Edwards is four inches taller than Tagovailoa and this year embraced his role as the goal-line quarterback, although as a standout at Lake Braddock High he amassed more than 5,000 passing yards and threw for 59 touchdowns.
“You do what your quarterback allows you to do,” Locksley said. “We kind of know who Billy is. I think sometimes because of how we use Billy maybe [media members] think that, ‘Oh, Billy’s just a runner,’ but Billy throws the ball really, really well. He’s a traditional pocket quarterback, but he also has some sneaky athleticism that I think catches people off-guard.”
But just because Edwards is being presented the opportunity to start in Maryland’s first bowl game against an SEC opponent since 2002 doesn’t mean he’ll be doing the same when the Terrapins open the 2024 season, according to Locksley, who is vowing to conduct an open competition.
In two years with the Wolfpack, Morris played in nine games, including seven starts, and passed for 1,367 yards with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. He joined the Terrapins a month after Locksley announced the hiring of former N.C. State director of player personnel Merci Falaise to the same position at Maryland.
“Everybody has to earn what they get around here,” Locksley said. “I talk about that a lot, so yeah, nobody’s been promised the starting position. It’s going to be a competitive position. [The] competition probably will go all the way into the summer. … The guy that does the best job of taking care of the football and the driving and scoring leads us out in the first game next year.”