Mike Locksley is at the helm of Maryland's latest attempt to reboot its football program, but he's got a much more impressive mission on his hands.
The Maryland head coach is determined to bring mental health to the mainstream in college football.
His mission was born out of tragedy. The Locksleys' second-oldest son Meiko was killed in 2017, a shooting that remains unsolved to this day. Meiko was a standout football player that played for his father at New Mexico and later at Iowa Western and Lackawanna College. As Mike and his wife Kia tell ESPN's Outside the Lines, Meiko's personality changed as he developed into adulthood, and he was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. That mental illness led to destructive behavior and run-ins with the law, but Meiko was working and living on his own at the time of his 2017 murder, which remains unsolved today.
“First of all, I was very proud of him in a way he carried out last name. He was a great son, caring — was not perfect as no child is,” he said. “He dealt with struggles with mental health issues, and he was a talented athlete, smart. Gone too soon. But we’re very thankful for the 25 years we did get to spend with him.”
“We want closure. We’re not mad. We’re not angry anymore — we’re hurt. We miss him,” Locksley said. “We would just hope that if someone has any information that they would just come forward to maybe bring some closure. The Circle of Life isn’t built for parents to bury children, for us that’s been really tough to endure for the last three years.”
Locksley was at Alabama when Meiko was killed, but now he's back home, leading his home state's flagship program, and he's put mental health at the forefront of his program.
"You can walk into any coach's office and say, 'I'm not having a good day. Can we talk?' And they will drop everything and say, 'Yes, we're here for you,'" punter Anthony Pecorella told ESPN.
"I just remember him saying, 'I'm here for you if you want to talk. I'm more worried about Kenny the person than Kenny the football player.' No one's ever said that to be before," said safety Kenny Bennett.