Beau Brade’s college career lines up neatly with Maryland football’s most recent era.

He arrived as a little-known three-star safety from River Hill before the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, coach Michael Lockley’s second year and quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa’s first. Brade leaves after the Terps’ third straight bowl game victory, declaring for the 2024 NFL draft, as a defensive stalwart and program leader.

His progression — from special teamer to rotational piece to starter to star — embodies Locksley’s vision for the Terps as a program that recruits and develops high school players, especially local ones.

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When Brade committed to Maryland, despite offers from multiple other Power 5 schools, he chose to follow a coach with little proof of concept.

Locksley went 3-9 in his first season. But Brade saw potential with some of the recruits Maryland had landed — namely four-stars Nick Cross and Ruben Hyppolite II — and in the familial culture Locksley wanted for his program.

“Four years ago, [Locksley] sat down in my family’s living room with my mom and dad and [the pitch] was just that he sees me being a part of something that he’s starting at Maryland,” Brade told The Baltimore Banner.

The safety wouldn’t just be part of that plan — he’d help shape it.

The Terps’ poor 2019 record reflected their undeveloped culture. Brade witnessed it. He highlighted running back Jake Funk, linebacker Chance Campbell and safety Antwaine Richardson as leaders but said they were a handful of positive presences “overshadowed by other guys that were content with being on the team and being in college and playing football.”

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For example, one of Brade’s teammates was speaking with some of the Terps’ veterans. When the teammate said he had to go to class, the veterans made fun of him.

Defensive back Beau Brade (2)
Maryland Football vs. Nebraska  at Memorial Stadium  in Lincoln, NE on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. 
Brieanna Andrews/Maryland Terrapins
Beau Brade lines up before the snap during a game at Nebraska. (Brieanna Andrews/Maryland Terrapins)

Brade also noted there were stark divisions between the players and coaching staff rather than a collaborative approach.

“The culture right now is, everyone really has the same goal, and that’s to win a championship. The culture before that wasn’t like that,” Brade said. “There was some guys that were going there just to get to the next level. Some guys just wanted to have fun. ... Some coaches were there just to make a name for themselves.

“Everybody wasn’t really bought into the vision.”

Maryland improved after a 2-3 2020 showing to make its first bowl game of Locksley’s tenure in Brade’s second season. He made four tackles in a blowout of Virginia Tech.

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In 2022, with safeties Cross and Jordan Mosley departing for the NFL, Brade became a full-time starter along with Dante Trader Jr. That started a partnership between the two unproven defensive backs — neither had started a game — that’s flourished into a lifelong friendship.

The two constantly hang out together. Brade was often seen at Trader’s lacrosse game’s last spring. The two, along with Hyppolite, even started the “One Speed Podcast” together.

“He’s like a brother to me. I never had a brother, so it’s cool to have one with me now,” Brade said.

Their connection showed on the field. Maryland ranked 46th in ESPN’s defensive SP+ (a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency) in 2021 but rose to 28th in the duo’s first year starting and 11th this past season.

Over that time, Brade developed into a leader. He said he regularly tried, to varying degrees of success, to get players to put in extra work such as post-practice lifts. He targeted the Terps’ young and impressionable players when doing so.

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“They’re just looking for a crew to follow, looking for some guys, some role models to follow,” he said. “They’re not bought into the ‘I’m gonna go home right after practice and play video games’ yet.”

But, after Brade and Trader became starters, the Terps repeatedly fell short when faced with “breakthrough” games: opportunities to knock off the conference’s elite. Brade went 0-6 as a starter against Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State — including blowing a second-half lead to the Buckeyes and losing by seven to the eventual national champion Wolverines this year.

“It doesn’t just suck because we haven’t got it yet,” Brade said, “but it sucks because of how close we came to it a couple of times.”

The inability to close out narrow but earth-shattering wins has prompted a host of “what-if” questions for the safety. Some center around his team’s preparation. What if Maryland had more players work out in the offseason? What if Brade, as a leader, pushed his teammates harder to study the playbook?

Others are about his own performance. Sure, he had a game-high 11 tackles, but what if he’d secured that diving first-quarter interception to stop a Michigan touchdown drive?

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How long will those questions linger?

“If Michigan wins the national championship,” Brade said on Jan. 5, “probably forever.”

The Wolverines won the title mere days later.

When asked what the next steps for Maryland are, the safety returned to the same grind that’s driven his career.

“The next step is everyone buying in,” he said, before positing a question that reflects his own sensibilities but also the reshaped environment within College Park he helped create.

“Why can’t everyone be a leader?”