With an explosive offense and a 6-2 record, Maryland football’s players have earned a few awards this season, but none more entertaining than offensive lineman Johari Branch’s. ESPN gave him its ‘Best celebration’ award for his spontaneous cartwheel celebrating Roman Hemby’s game-winning touchdown against Northwestern.
One of the biggest players on a big offensive line, Branch fluidly pulled off the gymnastics late in the game, drawing a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. But the site of a massive offensive lineman frolicking like a small child was worth it.
— Sharla McBride (@SharlaMcBride) October 22, 2022
Some penalties are totally worth it, as Maryland offensive lineman Johari Branch showed Saturday.
A man of Branch’s stature — 6-foot-3, 330 pounds — is often miscast for power and brawn alone. But the Terrapins center showcased grace and flair after Maryland teammate Roman Hemby scored the go-ahead 75-yard touchdown against Northwestern in the fourth quarter. An end zone camera captured Branch doing a perfect cartwheel across the goal line before celebrating with his teammates.
Officials assessed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, but Maryland held on for a 31-24 win to become bowl eligible.
Maryland coach Mike Locksley clearly didn’t like the penalty on Branch, but perhaps he can use Branch’s tumbling talents in the future. that’s what Ohio did in 2019, when offensive lineman Hagen Meservy lined up as a receiver and cartwheeled to distract the defense for a nice gain on a pass play.
Bottom line: Never let a big man’s talents go to waste.
Branch’s viral moment brough some debate on whether an act of harmless joy should be penalized, but then, Maryland’s been on the bad side of plenty of questionable calls this season. And the Terps (6-2 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) haven’t helped themselves, ranking No. 126 of 131 teams nationally in penalty yardage. They’ve been able to escae much damage from it, though, which shouldn’t be surprising when you noticed No. 20 Cincinnati is last, No. 3 Tennessee is No. 128 and No. 6 Alabama business No. 117. Apparently penalties don’t hurt you anymore.
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Anyway, Branch has been a key piece of one of Maryland’s better offensive lines in recent years. According to Pro Football Focus’s analytics, he’s been the second-best run-blocker among Maryland’s starting offensive line, behind Mason Lunsford. After starting all 18 games in his first two seasons, he came back for an extra year and is helping to pave the way for one of Maryland’s best offenses in recent years.
“He’s kind of the bully of the group,” coach Mike Locksley said, via The Diamondback’s Varun Shankar. “He doesn’t take anybody’s stuff, he will fight you and really get after people over the course of the game. Not just the other team but if he doesn’t feel his teammates are holding up their end of the bargain, he’s not afraid to step out and become one of those leaders we’ve been trying to develop.”
The former junior college recruit from Chicago has moved around on the line to fill Maryland’s needs, making the challenging move from guard to center last offseason to help the staff maximize its lineup.
Via Shankar’s profile:
From 12 pm to 7 pm, he stayed in the facility going over plays and practicing his snaps before heading to treatment and recovery. Maryland’s coaches were often on recruiting trips, so Branch spent much of his time with the team’s graduate assistants to understand the intricacies of the playbook.
Late in the summer when the Terps’ incoming freshman class arrived on the campus, many of them came to Branch for questions they had about the playbooks.
“I think they did that because they knew … I understood the playbook’s ins and outs,” he said.