Recently graduated offensive lineman Phil Costa is a slightly unorthodox choice on the rundown of the top 66 players of the Ralph Friedgen era.
Well, the entire 2009 season could conceivably be used as an argument against any of Maryland's offensive linemen. The unit was a giant question mark entering the season, then struggled as the Terrapins endured a 2-10 season.
It was the second straight year the offensive line was a bit of a trouble spot. But while a veteran-laden group in 2008 was wildly inconsistent, those behind the scenes had a great appreciation for what Costa was able to do in attempting to hold together an inexperienced outfit the next year.
“It’s a shame you don’t see its effects on the field right now, and you say ‘Well, obviously he didn’t do a job,’” offensive line coach Tom Brattan said entering the final month of the season. “But that’s not the case. In the nine years I’ve been here, he probably did the greatest job in the summer getting all these guys on the same page, getting them where they’ve got to be, taking some young guys under his wing and doing it right.”
That's not all Costa did, though. He started 31 games in his career, and demonstrated some versatility. He made 12 starts at center, 12 starts at right guard and seven at left guard. He was thrust into the lineup prematurely as a sophomore in 2007 --- the result of Andrew Crummey and Jaimie Thomas suffering broken legs in consecutive games ---and there were some rough moments initially (think having to deal with Chris Long in prime time).
A half-season of starting set Costa up for a solid junior season, one that wasn't talked about much while several seniors struggled for a variety of reasons. He played right guard for much of the season, helping to open holes for Da'Rel Scott during the sophomore's 1,00-yard season.
Then came last year, when Costa was the only fourth- or fifth-year offensive lineman who arrived on campus as a scholarship player. The overall results were predictable, but Costa was a mainstay and arguably the Maryland offense's second-most valuable player in 2009 (behind Torrey Smith).
“A lot of other guys would be all over the place and saying ‘What the hell is going on,’” linebacker Alex Wujciak said last fall. “He’s a guy that understands the bigger picture in life and in football. I think he feels his job is to help these young guys.”
Costa's lasting legacy won't be going out on a high note, and he didn't roll up many accolades in large part because of Maryland's struggles last fall. But he did help the likes of R.J. Dill, Justin Gilbert and Andrew Gonnella mature into better players, an impact that could last beyond his departure from College Park.
“Hopefully they develop on the field,” Costa said during the final month of his college career. “I’m not going to take credit for it, but maybe I helped out, just like hopefully some of the older guys have done with me.”
They did a pretty good job helping him along considering the value Costa provided to the Terps in his final three seasons.