Cugini didn’t let the competition deter her. She did what she always did and always does – she got involved. The results weren’t immediate and there were setbacks along the way, but in the end, it was all worth more than she had invested.
“So my first year, I didn’t play much,” Cugini said. “It was a tough freshman year. The whole harsh reality of, ‘Holy shit, I did so well in high school and on my club team, and now I’m in Maryland, and I can’t see the field.’
“My second year I wore a red shirt, and it happened that season, unfortunately, all of those other defenders except Givens came out with knee injuries.
“When I entered my first year there was a place, and that’s when the scholarship came. I can’t remember the exact amount, but it was definitely not an easy path to get a scholarship.
But when I got the scholarship, obviously I felt more like I had to work to get it.”
Cugini would start 17 of 31 appearances in the 2002 and 2003 seasons, but his redshirt senior season in 2004 stood out for several reasons.
“I had a couple of tears in my knee before the big pre-season in my fifth year,” Cugini recalled. “We were in pre-season, we were playing each other, and I slipped into Anna Sheveland, and my PCL ripped my shin off. It was disgusting. It was a horrible injury.
“And then when they did the MRI, they confirmed it was a torn PCL, which wasn’t that common for football like the ACLs they see all the time. Dr. Bennett was the team doctor at the time, and he told me it’s ‘t something we fix, and you go back, and you play.
“The PCL just stops your knee from hyper-extending. So he said I could wear a brace that stopped my knee from hyper-extending. But, he also said, if I do that, I was most likely going to *** tear myself apart playing with the brace. But, if I want to play, that was an option.”
After coming this far, Cugini wasn’t about to let anything get in her way, including advice from her head coach.
“I remember going to the Cirovski house for a pre-season barbecue that they used to have, and Shannon said to me, ‘You know, J-Lo, you still have a life. to live after football. And you can still serve as captain and just stay on our bench, and you don’t have to do that.
“And of course, I’m 21, I’m going to be 22, and I’m like, ‘No. I can do it.’ So I played with it, and I knew that at the end of the season, Dr. Bennett was going to fix everything. Anything I damaged, he was going to fix it.