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Former Maryland captain defends D.J. Durkin after report of 'toxic culture' in football program

One former player rushed to defend Maryland coach D.J. Durkin after a pair of reports detailed a “toxic culture” surrounding the Terrapins’ football program on Friday. (Getty Images)

Maryland football coach D.J. Durkin was placed on administrative leave on Saturday afternoon following a pair of ESPN reports detailing the “toxic culture” surrounding the Maryland football program under Durkin and the circumstances behind offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death earlier this year.

While the investigation into Durkin, his program and McNair’s death continues, though, at least one former player is rushing to his defense.

Defensive lineman Roman Braglio, who graduated from Maryland in 2016, spoke to the Baltimore Sun on Saturday and defended his former coach. He also served as a team captain in Durkin’s first season with the team in 2016.

Former players quoted in the ESPN story anonymously, Braglio told the Baltimore Sun, were using McNair’s death as a chance to “get back at” Durkin and other coaches who “considered them not good enough to play for the Terps.”

“After the transition from Coach [Randy] Edsall to Coach Durkin [in December 2015], there were kids on the team that didn’t want to play football. They didn’t want to be part of a winning team, is the best way I can put that,” Braglio told the Baltimore Sun. “There were some kids there that were along for the ride.

“They get the gear, they get to say they play for Maryland football, but they don’t really get to put on the pads or play in a game. They don’t want to go through the work.”

The ESPN report detailed a “toxic culture” that was based on fear and intimidation, and that “belittling, humiliation and embarrassment” is common.

One former staff member even said that he would “never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached there” due to the culture around the program.

Braglio, though, didn’t see Durkin in that way.

“He’s your life coach. He’s teaching you how it’s going to be when you get into the real world,” Braglio told the Baltimore Sun. “This is so much deeper than football. These kids see it as, ‘This is the reason I didn’t make it [to the NFL]. This coach was mean to me, and he didn’t like me. That’s why he didn’t play me. It’s not because somebody was better than me or I was outperformed or I didn’t put in the effort off the field.’”

The biggest thing that Braglio has learned since talking with other friends who play college football — including at other schools in the Big Ten — is that his experience at Maryland was no different than those he talked to who played for other programs.

“It’s football,” Braglio told the Baltimore Sun. “Football’s a man’s game. It’s not for the weakhearted.

“You get to the NFL, and it’s no different. That’s an actual job. That’s your boss yelling at you because you didn’t do the right stuff. If you don’t want to push yourself at that level, they’re just going to fire you. They get rid of you and they get the next guy who’s going to push literally to the limit.”

Durkin writes letter to parents acknowledging ESPN report

Before he was placed on administrative leave, Durkin wrote a letter to the parents of every player on his team warning them that the two articles were coming and that they “may prompt questions” about him and the program.

He also offered to speak with any parents who had further questions or concerns.

“The past few months have been very difficult for our program,” Durkin wrote in the letter on Friday, according to the Baltimore Sun. “Based on feedback from our parent meeting in June, we want to keep the lines of communication open.

“Our priority every day is the safety along with the academic, personal and athletic development of your sons. During this time of healing, our focus needs to be on each other and unity within our program.”

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada will serve as the interim head coach while Durkin is on administrative leave.

The Terrapins open the season on September 1 when they host Texas.

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