June 28, 2004 COLLEGE PARK Through much of June, it seemed as if almost every day brought more indications that Maryland's football recruiting is reaching a new level.
During a two-week span, the Terrapins picked up a mind-boggling 11 commitments for their Class of 2005. On one day, four highly touted players in-state tailback Morgan Green, New Jersey wide receiver Isaiah Williams, in-state cornerback Anthony Wiseman and Georgia defensive back Brandyn Young gave head coach Ralph Friedgen pledges, following a Junior Academy Day on the College Park campus.
Things really got rolling once Maryland began its two-session, week-long camp, which was held June 16-23 this year. At press time, seven more prospects had announced for the Terps after visiting the school during camp. That avalanche brought Maryland's rush of commitments, which began with two in May, to 13 players.
Clearly, recruits are becoming more receptive to Maryland following the team's 31 victories and three major bowl appearances over the last three seasons. Friedgen's growing reputation as one of the country's top head coaches, along with impressive facilities improvements, also have made the program more attractive.
You know recruiting is heating up when rising juniors also are so excited about a program that they commit 20 months before they're allowed to sign a letter of intent. Even Friedgen was somewhat surprised when two prominent in-state members of the Class of 2006, linebacker Navarro Bowman and lineman Antonio Logan-El, accepted very early scholarship offers from the Terps.
Friedgen and his assistants had talked about being more selective during this year's recruiting campaign, reasoning that Maryland's higher profile would enable it to contend for more national prospects.
Clearly, the Terrapins are offering fewer local (Maryland-D.C.-Northern Virginia) prospects than in years past. According to Sports Journal sources, Friedgen had extended early scholarship offers to only 14 rising seniors from the region and was holding steady at that number.
Maryland picked up one of its key targets during camp, when in-state fullback Jeremy Navarre committed. Fullback was a crucial need for this class, and the Terps had Navarre whose other finalist was Penn State rated No. 1 on their board.
With Green, Navarre and Wiseman in the fold, Maryland already had secured almost half (six of 14) of the Maryland-D.C. players it had offered early. The Terps remain in hot pursuit of receiver Derrick Williams, end Melvin Alaeze, lineman Kevin Wiggins, quarterback Ike Whitaker, cornerback Jamari McCollough and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, among others.
Many fans were surprised when Maryland offered and accepted commitments from twins Tommy and Dwight Galt of in-state Good Counsel High. The Galts, who are experienced long snappers and decent athletes but were receiving very little Division I-A recruiting attention, are not currently rated among the top 25 prospects in Maryland-D.C. by most services.
On the surface, it didn't make any sense that Friedgen had passed over many more highly regarded prospects in favor of the Galts. However, those familiar with the program know that the twins are the sons of long-time Maryland football strength and conditioning coordinator Dwight Galt. Call it professional courtesy, or perhaps respect for a valuable staffer, but the Terps took the twins, whose only other early offers were from Division I-AA programs.
Generally speaking, though, there is no denying that Friedgen and his staff are operating on a higher plane on the recruiting trail this season. Numerous prospects who previously wouldn't have considered College Park now have Maryland among their finalists or already have committed to the Terps, and that's normally a very good sign.
Williams' Plan Questioned Again
It happens every year, often around this time. Diehard Maryland basketball fans resume debating coach Gary Williams' basketball recruiting strategies.
Williams always has had his own unique way of doing things, and that sometimes frustrates the faithful, who don't always understand the gameplan. Under Williams, the Terps often have been criticized for too often putting all of their eggs in one basket, setting their sights on certain hand-picked recruits while allowing others to get away.
That policy came back to bite the Terrapins last year, when solid prospects such as Joakim Noah (Florida), Isaiah Swann (Florida State) and Adrian Joseph (Virginia) signed elsewhere while Williams waited (and waited) fruitlessly for McDonald's All-American Rudy Gay. All three aforementioned players had hoped for a Maryland offer that never came. The Terps wound up giving their other scholarship to junior college guard Sterling Ledbetter, a promising local prospect (originally from Laurel High) but someone who will have only two years of eligibility in College Park.
This is a scenario that has been repeated many times before and seems to be unfolding again. Williams clearly has taken to New Jersey point guard Sean McCurdy, and the coach made the young prospect his top priority in the Class of 2005.
McCurdy visited the College Park campus in the spring and came away impressed enough to list Maryland No. 1. There was talk that McCurdy would commit on his visit, then more talk that he had given the Terps a silent commitment at some point, but there was no evidence to support that it actually happened.
Meanwhile, Williams and his staff apparently abandoned any sort of backup plan at point guard, backing off Andre McGee of California and Josh Thornton of Delaware. McGee, who publicly stated that he was hoping for a Maryland offer and once listed the Terps as one of his favorites, recently committed to Louisville. Thornton, who had heard little or nothing from the Terps for months, chose Georgetown.
It's a similar situation in the frontcourt, where Maryland seems to be single-mindedly pursuing New Jersey power forward Tyrell Biggs while declining to offer several other highly regarded prospects who were interested in the Terps. Pennsylvania forward Ben McCauley and New Jersey forward J.R. Inman are among those who had hoped for Maryland offers that don't appear to be forthcoming.
Inman, whom assistant Dave Dickerson scouted closely during the Charlie Weber Tournament this spring, grew tired of waiting and committed to Rutgers. McCauley also has turned his attention to other programs.
It is always fun to follow the give-and-take between the Gary backers and Gary bashers, whether it's at the local sports bar or on the various fan message boards. Whenever a former Maryland target such as McGee or Inman commits elsewhere, the detractors emerge in full force to complain that Williams is blowing it again. Others then inevitably respond by pointing out the team's recent record of success, which came as a direct result of the coach's recruiting philosophies.
Meanwhile, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why Williams has refused to announce his third assistant coach. It has now been months since second assistant Jimmy Patsos departed to become the head coach at Loyola. He was replaced by former Catholic teammate/friend Mike Lonergan.
At the time, numerous sources told the Sports Journal, the Baltimore Sun and likely others that former Maryland great Keith Booth would replace Matt Kovarik as the Terps' third assistant. Williams reportedly went ballistic over such reports, which was strange because they originally emanated from within his own office.
It appears that Williams, always the stubborn type, is purposely delaying the announcement that Booth will replace Kovarik, either for some valid but unknown reason or just to make it appear that the previous reports were premature or erroneous.
All the while, sources continue to insist that it has long been a done deal, that Kovarik will return to law school (or possibly assist Patsos at Loyola) and that Booth finally will join the staff in College Park. Stay tuned!