This afternoon marks the 10th time this spring Maryland's Trenton Hughes and Dexter McDougle are practicing with at least a head start for a starting cornerback spot at stake in the fall.
Call it a competition.
Or a preview of what is to come.
Just don't call it a battle. Or a fight. Or, heaven help those without perspective, something even more bellicose.
"We're not looking at it as a battle. Every day we're just going out there having fun and playing," Hughes said. "Basically, just doing what we have to do for the team. Really, I know everyone else is looking at it as a battle. I'm not looking at it as a battle. It's just doing what you have to do."
Added McDougle: "We're not really fighting. We're boys. We make sure we go out there and do what we have to do to do our jobs."
Oh, but it's an important one.
As the Terrapins head into their second season in defensive coordinator Don Brown's system, there's little question one of the priorities this spring is to figure out a cornerback situation that was never entirely ideal last season.
Nolan Carroll got hurt in the second game. Cameron Chism, pretty well established now as a starter, took the sort of lumps a redshirt freshman thrust into a massive role in a cover-them-on-an-island-or-else system would typically take.
By the time he'd progressed in his on-the-job learning, opponents cast an eager eye to the other side of the field. The second half of the season wasn't always a pleasant one for senior Anthony Wiseman, who was yanked for much of the second half of Maryland's loss to Virginia Tech.
The beneficiary of that benching was Hughes, a product of the 757 who saw plenty of old acquaintances on the Hokies sideline when he finally got his first extended playing time.
"You can't beat experience," Hughes said. "All that helps. getting my feet wet and going out there and trying to have some fun, it definitely helps in everything."
It is a belated payoff for Hughes, who will be a redshirt junior next season. It took a while for several veterans to pass through the program --- Carroll, Wiseman, Richard Taylor, Kevin Barnes and even Isaiah Gardner --- to exhaust their eligibility before an opportunity finally developed.
"There's a lot of patience, a lot of struggling," Hughes said. "It wasn't easy. Coming out of high school, you're one of the best in the area. Then you have to redshirt. I got over that. Then you're playing behind people you think you're better than, but you just don't have the experience, and experience plays over you. Everybody goes through it, and I always say the cream always rises to the top, so I'm finally here."
So, too, is McDougle.
He was in much the same situation as Hughes last season, on the cusp of playing but not quite a serious factor. He was also redshirting, though he made the trip to every road game as an emergency option at corner and at punt returner.
The assurance of making the 72-man travel roster meant McDougle couldn't loaf through practices, couldn't shrug off his responsibilities even if he didn't think he'd play. He prepared like the starters, since the Terps' secondary depth meant he wasn't too far away from receiving significant snaps.
McDougle, a safety in high school, is 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, and while maybe he's not as tall as an ideal corner in Brown's system, he has the physicality to make a difference.
"Right now, I'm trying to get real physical with the receivers," McDougle said. "They
tell me I'm real physical. I just want to get better at reading their
routes, reading what they do right before they snap or what they do off
the ball because if you make your reads, it'll make it a lot easier for
Both remain relatively unknown as college players, and it will stay that way until September arrives. If history is any precedent, Hughes would probably have a slight edge based on actually playing in a game.
Still, even that is no sure thing.
"I think both of them will play, no question," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Hughes is playing with more confidence. I think the experience has helped him. He's not giving up any big plays. ... McDougle's just inexperienced. He's a talented kid, and he's going to be a good player."
How soon is the crucial question. Taking two legitimate options into the fall is a much better scenario for Maryland than one --- or none, for that matter.
It'll be a while (months, in all likelihood) before the corner situation is sorted out. An important job is at stake, for the careers of Hughes and McDougle as well as for Maryland's chances to succeed next season.
Just don't call it a battle.
"We're not really into the whole fight, or me and him are competing," McDougle said. "We're competing, but we're just trying to get out there, do our job and get better and whatever happens in the end happens in the end."