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Keeping Studs Home Even More Difficult

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

July 1, 2003 COLLEGE PARK — An interesting phenomenon has occurred as a result of Maryland's recent success in football. Major programs that previously never set foot in the area suddenly are recruiting Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Perhaps that's because Maryland has won 21 games and appeared in two major bowls in the past two seasons, and the Terps have done so with a roster comprised largely of Maryland-D.C. products. Former coach Ron Vanderlinden's recruiting philosophy of “dominating the home turf” has paid dividends, much to the surprise of the many naysayers (including the Sports Journal) who have questioned the depth of top-flight talent in the Maryland-D.C. region.

The Terrapins made an emphatic statement to the contrary last year, when a team consisting of 51 Maryland-D.C. players whipped Tennessee and its more diverse (read: players drawn from all over the country) talent mix.

Last year's crop of Maryland-D.C. seniors was a rarity, as there were eight legitimate national prospects and more than 35 Division I-A signees. There don't appear to be nearly as many I-A prospects this year, but that hasn't prevented schools from all over the country from becoming more active in the area. Schools from the Pac-10 (UCLA, Oregon State, Stanford) and Big 12 (Nebraska, Colorado) — conferences that traditionally have almost never recruited Maryland-D.C. — already have extended scholarships this summer.

The Big Ten and SEC, previously very selective in offering players from this region, steadily have increased their presence in Maryland-D.C. More and more local players are reporting that they are being recruited by the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State, Tennessee and Georgia.

All of which means it's becoming tougher and tougher for Maryland to control its immediate territory. Second-tier prospects who previously had few choices other than the hometown Terps suddenly are receiving scholarship offers elsewhere.

“We won with local talent, and the competition has taken notice,” new Maryland recruiting coordinator James Franklin said recently. “We just have to work a little harder to keep the best players at home.”

Yet Maryland still must dole out scholarship offers based in part on positional needs, even if it means losing a local product to a competing school. Last year, the Terrapins declined to offer more than a dozen Maryland-D.C. prospects who wound up signing with other Division I-A programs, including wide receiver Deyon Williams (Virginia), running back Marcus Mason (Illinois), tight end Chris Bassler (West Virginia), defensive lineman Chris Malamet (West Virginia), defensive lineman Cornelius Campbell (Syracuse), defensive back Reggie McCoy (Syracuse), defensive back Tanard Jackson (Syracuse) and linebacker Derron Thomas (Pittsburgh).

Priorities: Defensive Back, Lines

Maryland's priorities in the 2003-04 recruiting campaign are at defensive back, defensive end and (as always) along both lines. The Terps will lose five players from the secondary following the 2003 season and already are woefully thin at the strong side defensive end position.

Eleanor Roosevelt High's Derrick Harvey blossomed during the combine/camp season, going from a local football newcomer to a national prospect. The 6-6, 220-pounder is a basketball convert who has 20 scholarship offers despite only one year of experience on the gridiron. Landing Harvey wouldn't completely make up for the loss of deluxe defensive end Victor Abiamiri (remember the scandal?), but it certainly would ease the Terps' pain.

Maryland already has taken steps to address its secondary needs, gaining commitments from a pair of local prospects in Kevin Barnes of Old Mill and Christian Varner of Randallstown. Both impressed the staff with their speed and overall athleticism. However, the top target among area defensive backs is Donte Herrod of H.D. Woodson in D.C. Among his 18 scholarship offers are those from Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Colorado and Georgia.

Coach Ralph Friedgen also continues his search for a game-breaking wide receiver, the type of kid who can stretch defenses. The Terps are pushing hard for a pair of big-time prospects in Gonzaga's Douglas Dutch and
DeMatha's Derrick McPhearson. Both speedsters already have double-digit offers from schools in major conferences.

Interestingly, the top competition for Dutch and McPhearson could come from Florida and its new recruiting coordinator, former Maryland running backs coach Mike Locksley. There is some fear among Maryland fans that Locksley — who left for the Gators in large part because he was upset about his chance for a promotion in College Park — will return to the area and hurt his former team, and that's a definite possibility. No one knows the talent-rich territory of D.C. and Prince George's County as well as Locksley, who fully intends to use his long-standing ties to spirit some talent away to Gainesville.

Franklin appears to be doing a thorough job in his first few months as recruiting coordinator, making all the necessary calls and visits. However, it remains to be seen whether his eye for talent is as sharp as Locksley's. It was Locksley who discovered many of the in-state sleepers who wound up playing key roles for Maryland over the last couple years. He also did his homework well enough to know which over-hyped prospects (Stan White, etc.) weren't worth any extra effort.

Moving Up: Evans, Maldonado

Prior to spring camp, Friedgen never mentioned Orlando Evans when discussing Maryland's quarterback situation.

The coach noted the comfort level of having a clear-cut starter in Scott McBrien, and he talked at length about the expected battle between redshirt freshmen Joel Statham and Sam Hollenbach. Friedgen had high praise for the potential of both Statham and Hollenbach, saying “the future of our program hinges on the development of our young quarterbacks.”

Evans, a once-prominent junior college transfer who missed all of 2002 after undergoing knee surgery, seemed like a forgotten man. Lo and behold, it was Evans who emerged from spring practice as the No. 2 QB. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Charlie Taaffe made that declaration after Evans completed nine of 12 passes for 108 yards during the annual Red-White game.

“Orlando was steady all month and had a very good spring game. He's further ahead and more consistent than Sam or Joel, as he should be after two years in the system,” Taaffe said. “If we were playing a game tomorrow, it would have to be Orlando getting the backup call. He has a little better presence than the other two because of his experience.”

Evans participated in spring drills last year after transferring in from San Francisco City College, where he led his team to a national championship. However, the athletic signal-caller did not pick up the offense very well and was a distant third behind McBrien and Chris Kelley (since moved to safety) coming out of August two-a-days.

At the time, it seemed Evans would be another wasted juco recruit, of which there have been many at Maryland in recent years. Yet the sudden re-emergence of the former Oregon signee only reinforced the sensibility of Friedgen's long-held philosophy that “you can never have enough good quarterbacks.”

Another player who made a big move during the spring was tailback Sam Maldonado, the Ohio State transfer who becomes eligible this fall. Maldonado rushed for a game-high 89 yards in the Red-White scrimmage, showing surprising burst to go along with the power one would expect from a former fullback. Maldonado, by far the biggest and strongest of the team's tailbacks, seems to have found a role as a short-yardage specialist. He showed a nose for the end zone when used in goal-line situations throughout the spring.

Weight Room Records Tumbling

Maryland conducted strength and speed testing toward the end of spring practice, and the most notable performances came from wide receiver/returner Steve Suter. One of the smallest Terps at 5-9 and 188 pounds, he put up amazing numbers in all weightlifting categories in compiling a strength index of 768 points.

Suter had a 580-pound squat lift and a 352-pound clean-and-jerk. Consider that massive 300-pound offensive lineman Lamar Bryant had a strength index of 782. Further defining Suter as the team's most remarkable athlete was the fact that he had one of the fastest 40-yard dash times (4.37) and tied for first with a 42-inch vertical leap.

Friedgen's emphasis on strength development has paid dividends, as 33 players now are classified as Iron Terps (strength index of 650 or better). In 1994, only seven Terps managed to reach that magic figure.

All told, 15 individual records by position were set in various strength categories, with both of Suter's lifts blowing away the previous marks for a wide receiver. Other positional records set were those by offensive lineman Bryant (782 index, 740 squat), quarterback Sam Hollenbach (654 index, 550 squat), defensive tackle Randy Starks (765 squat), defensive end Jamahl Cochran (41-inch vertical), linebacker Leon Joe (41-inch vertical), outside linebacker Shawne Merriman (42-inch vertical), defensive back Ray Custis (790 index), defensive back Curome Cox (352 clean) and punter Adam Podlesh (292 clean).

Other Football Odds And Ends

As expected and previously reported in the Sports Journal, Mount St. Joseph skill athlete Keon Lattimore did not qualify academically and will attend a prep school, most likely Fork Union Military Academy. Friedgen confirmed that information recently and remains confident the younger brother of Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis will wind up in College Park.

Additionally, incoming recruits Dan Gronkowski (QB/TE) and Dre Moore (DT) will not join the Maryland program until January. Gronkowski is young and extremely thin, while Moore is young and relatively inexperienced. Both could use the extra year of development that will result from the relatively new strategy of gray-shirting.

Finally, rush end Mike Whaley has re-joined the program after spending all of 2002 at Prince George's Community College working on his grades. Center Jason Holman, who failed out at the same time as Whaley, still has not been re-admitted to Maryland. Linebacker Randy Earle has returned to College Park and re-enrolled in school after spending most of the spring semester at home on Long Island. Earle mysteriously withdrew from school even though he was in sound academic standing, according to the coaching staff. Center Robert Jenkins, a juco signee who enrolled in January and was expected to contribute immediately, encountered academic difficulties this spring and must earn his way back onto the roster during summer school to be eligible this fall.