By David Glenn,
June 29, 2006
Every year, at least one ACC football team loads up on early commitments, first in the spring, then often with another flurry during and after summer camp in June.
Three years ago, Maryland jumped in front of the pack with eight commitments by the end of June, on the way to a consensus top-20 collection for coach Ralph Friedgen.
Two years ago, Virginia raised a lot of eyebrows in the college football world by snaring 17 promises from rising high school seniors before July, on the way to another consensus top-20 group for coach Al Groh. The early decision-makers in 2004 included prep All-Americans such as in-state athlete Vic Hall and New Jersey offensive lineman Eugene Monroe.
Last year, North Carolina led the way by securing eight commitments by mid-June, then a few more after the team's summer camp. Coach John Bunting and the Tar Heels ended up with a consensus top-30 class, although most of the big names came later.
This summer, Virginia is back in the driver's seat. The Cavaliers again are setting the ACC pace on the recruiting trail, this time with 10 pledges by late June. That number would be large in any year, but it was particularly surprising this time because the Wahoos who plan to re-sign numerous non-qualifiers from their Class of 2006 are expected to accept only 15 or so "new" signatures on national signing day in February.
Here's a review of the rising high school seniors who already have announced that they plan to spend their college careers in Charlottesville:
Mt. Carmel (PA) High TE Mark Ambrose, rated one of the top 50 rising seniors in Pennsylvania, committed to Virginia in April over Syracuse and Temple. Boston College, Connecticut, Northwestern and Penn State also showed interest. After missing his sophomore season with a shoulder injury, Ambrose played mostly running back, wide receiver and defensive end as a junior. A projected tight end for Virginia, he runs the 40 in 4.8 seconds. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is tight ends coach Bob Price.
Newport News (VA) Woodside LB Jared Detrick, rated one of the top 25 rising seniors in Virginia, picked Virginia in March over interest from Indiana, Marshall and North Carolina. His older brother Jason starred in basketball at Oklahoma. A three-year starter, Jared had more than 300 receiving yards as a tight end and more than 60 tackles as a linebacker last fall as a junior. Also a member of the track team (high jump, relays, sprints), he runs the 40 in 4.55 seconds. He has a 3.0 GPA. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is defensive coordinator Mike London, a graduate of nearby Hampton (VA) Bethel.
"Academics and football, that's what set (Virginia) apart," Detrick said. "UVa's academic reputation speaks for itself. It's one of the top public universities in the nation. They also play an NFL defense that's perfect for linebackers. I like the campus, the players and the coaching staff, especially Coach London. He's a great guy."
Culpeper (VA) High LB Terence Fells-Danzer, rated one of the top 25 rising seniors in Virginia, chose Virginia in May over Virginia Tech. Clemson, Duke, Georgia, Kansas State, Maryland, UNC, Tennessee and West Virginia also showed interest. He lives about 30 minutes away from Charlottesville. As a junior, Fells-Danzer played mostly running back and linebacker (50 tackles, three sacks) but was limited by an ankle injury for most of the season. Also a member of the track team (discus, long jump, sprints), he benches 295 pounds, squats 490 and runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. He has a 3.0 GPA. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is wide receivers coach John Garrett.
"Terence is one of the hardest-working kids I've ever coached," Culpeper coach Greg Martz said. "He doesn't take shortcuts. When they see the way he plays when he's healthy, everyone in the nation will wish they had offered him a scholarship."
Pottsville (PA) High OL Brad Hallick, rated one of the top 50 rising seniors in Pennsylvania, opted for Virginia in May over Vanderbilt. The first Pottsville player to commit to a Division I-A program since 1996, he also had early scholarship offers from Indiana, Rutgers, Stanford and Temple, plus interest from Northwestern, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. His father was an offensive lineman at Lehigh. A two-year starter, Hallick earned first-team all-area and all-region honors as a junior, playing guard and tackle for a team that finished 13-2 and advanced to the state championship game. Also a member of the track team (discus, shot put), he benches 300 pounds, squats 425 and runs the 40 in 5.2 seconds. The top student in a class of more than 250, he has a 4.0 GPA and a 1,670 (new scale) SAT score. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is tight ends coach Bob Price.
"He's the most goal-oriented player I've ever seen, and that comes through on the field and obviously with his school work," Pottsville coach Kevin Keating said. "Everybody likes him because of his size, his motor and his potential. When you put his drive together with those physical skills and his grades, you have a pretty rare package."
"I started with the idea that I wanted my family to be able to drive a reasonable distance to see me play, then I evaluated every school on both football and academics," Hallick said. "Virginia obviously came out on top. I also like the coaching staff and the idea of playing in the ACC. It's one of the best conferences in the country."
Philadelphia (PA) Roman Catholic DB Dominique Joseph, rated one of the top 50 rising seniors in Pennsylvania, picked Virginia in March (after attending UVa's junior day in February) over interest from Boston College, Iowa and Pittsburgh. Both of his parents were track athletes at Temple. As a junior, he had six interceptions. A high school safety and receiver who said he hopes to play cornerback in college, Joseph runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds. Also a star center fielder in baseball, he said he may try to play both sports at UVa. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is tight ends coach Bob Price.
"Junior day was a very big deal for me. That left a very big impression," Joseph said. "It's the best campus I've ever seen. It's a great school, and the athletic facilities are amazing. I wanted to make an early decision, and I wanted to find a place where I felt comfortable with the coaches and players, and that's what I found at Virginia."
Springfield (VA) West Springfield QB Peter Lalich, rated one of the top 25 quarterbacks in the nation, chose Virginia in April over Michigan. He also had early scholarship offers from Maryland, Miami, Mississippi, N.C. State, Ohio State, Pittsburgh and UCLA, plus interest from California, Oklahoma, Southern California and many others. As a junior, directing a spread offense, Lalich completed 189 of 331 passing attempts (57 percent) for 2,671 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a 5-5 team, earning all-district honors. As a freshman and sophomore, he played mostly wide receiver. He benches 285 pounds, squats 450 and runs the 40 in 4.7 seconds. He has a 3.2 GPA and a qualifying SAT score. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is offensive coordinator Mike Groh.
"Virginia was my top school all along. I took a lot of trips and looked around, but I never found anybody to beat them out," Lalich said. "I like the coaching staff a lot, I like the offense they run, and I feel very comfortable around the players. I also think I'll have a chance to play early."
Arlington (VA) Yorktown RB Max Milien, rated one of the top 25 rising seniors in Virginia, opted for Virginia in March over interest from Marshall, Maryland and Virginia Tech. He has two older brothers who are enrolled at Tech, but he said the Cavaliers-Hokies rivalry is not a big deal in his family. As a junior, Max rushed 143 times for 1,475 yards and 20 touchdowns, and he caught 24 passes for 414 yards and nine TDs. Milien benches 225 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds. He has a 2.8 GPA and a 1,070 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is running backs coach Anthony Poindexter.
Lexington (KY) Clay WR/DB Chase Minnifield, rated one of the top 10 rising seniors in Kentucky, picked Virginia in May over Louisville. He also had early scholarship offers from Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Middle Tennessee State, Northwestern, Stanford and West Virginia, plus interest from Michigan State and Wake Forest. His father, cornerback Dirk Minnifield, starred for Louisville and then in the NFL (Cleveland) for many years, and one of Dirk's coaches with the Browns in 1992 was current Virginia leader Al Groh. As a junior, Chase scored 18 touchdowns, posted five interceptions and earned first-team all-city and all-district honors for a team that finished 12-2 and advanced to the state Class 4A semifinals. A running back and defensive back in high school, he likely will play wide receiver or cornerback in Charlottesville. He has a 3.0-plus GPA and a 24 ACT score. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is defensive backs coach Steve Bernstein.
"If (Minnifield) is not the best all-around athlete in the state of Kentucky, he's on a very short list," Clay coach Sam Simpson said. "Other than the line, he can play any position on the field and play it very well."
"I actually was leaning to Louisville the night before I announced," Minnifield said. "Virginia just had the total package Coach Groh, his staff, the NFL-style defense they play, going to a bowl game every year, everything. Academics played a big role, too. That's very important in my family, and Virginia is a great combination of great football and great academics. You don't always see both at the same place."
Gloucester (VA) High LB Aaron Taliaferro, rated one of the top 25 linebackers in the nation, chose Virginia in May over Maryland, N.C. State and Virginia Tech. He also had early scholarship offers from Clemson and UNC, plus strong interest from Florida, Louisville, Notre Dame, Tennessee, UCLA and others. The first player from Gloucester to earn a Division I-A scholarship offer since James Harris (Virginia) in 1978, Taliaferro had 62 tackles, 19 sacks and recovered four fumbles as a junior, earning first-team all-region and all-district honors. He benches 295 pounds, squats 425 and runs the 40 in 4.7 seconds. He has a 3.0 GPA. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is defensive coordinator Mike London.
"(Taliaferro) reminds me of (former UVa linebacker) Darryl Blackstock and (Virginia Tech end) Chris Ellis," said Gloucester coach Tommy Reamon, who previously mentored Aaron Brooks, Michael Vick, Marcus Vick and other stars at Newport News (VA) Warwick. "It's very difficult to keep those guys off the quarterback, and that's a valuable skill at every level. Virginia and Virginia Tech obviously have different defensive schemes, but those guys all fit the same mold."
"I wanted to stay pretty close to home, and Virginia was the best fit," Taliaferro said. "I feel really comfortable with Coach Groh, Coach London and the rest of the coaches, and I liked the vibe I was getting from both the school and the football program."
Christchurch (VA) School LB/S J'Courtney Williams, rated one of the top 25 linebackers in the nation, opted for Virginia in April over Maryland, UNC and Virginia Tech. He also had early scholarship offers from Clemson, Kentucky, Louisville and Mississippi State, plus interest from Colorado, Florida, Kansas State, LSU and N.C. State. Williams played linebacker, safety, receiver and tight end as a junior, and he posted more than 50 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions despite missing half the season with a knee injury. He also had 35 receptions for about 400 yards and five touchdowns on offense. Williams, who played at Danville (VA) Washington as a freshman and sophomore, benches 325 pounds, squats 375 and runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. His main recruiter with the Cavaliers is defensive coordinator Mike London.
"Virginia was the first school that offered me a scholarship," Williams said. "It got kind of crazy after that, and I visited a lot of schools just to see what they had to offer, but the best relationship I developed during the recruiting process was with Coach London. I have a lot of respect for him, and I look forward to playing for him. I also liked the academics, and it's close to home, so my family will be able to see me play."
MARYLAND DROPS PROMISING ALAEZE
Maryland football followers received quite a shock on June 21, when the athletic department issued a terse press release announcing that highly touted recruit Melvin Alaeze had been released from his national letter of intent.
Alaeze was let go "due to a violation of the terms of his financial aid agreement," the university statement said. Multiple media reports then revealed that the decision went much deeper and was based largely on the prep All-American defensive end's apparent academic shortcomings and alleged criminal activity.
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen made the decision to part ways with Alaeze following a one-on-one meeting between the parties. Sources close to the football program told the Sports Journal that Friedgen had hoped to keep Alaeze in the fold but did not receive the answers he was looking for from the youngster.
"Things did not go well," one source said. "Ralph had some serious concerns, and the meeting only made things worse."
"It is unfortunate that Melvin Alaeze was not able to realize his potential as an athlete or a student at the University of Maryland," Friedgen said in the statement. "He is a rare physical talent, and we wish him well in his future endeavors."
The Baltimore Sun first reported that Alaeze had been arrested in February and charged with five marijuana-related offenses, according to Baltimore County District Court records. Three of the charges, including the most serious (possession of marijuana with intent to distribute) accusation, were dismissed during a hearing in March. Two remaining charges possession of marijuana and paraphernalia were placed on inactive status but still can be prosecuted, the Baltimore County state attorney's office said.
Dinma Alaeze, the prospect's father, said Maryland was informed of the incident immediately and initially seemed to be supportive.
"They said Friedgen specifically that they would stick with me, and that we would work it out," Melvin Alaeze told the Sun. "But they didn't."
Friedgen ultimately told the family the arrest violated Alaeze's letter of intent, a position Dinma Alaeze did not understand.
"He got arrested in February," he said. "It's not like it happened yesterday. Why did they wait until now to take his scholarship away?"
Sources close to the situation said Friedgen's concerns went way beyond the drug charges. Alaeze has a troubled past that includes other disciplinary problems and shaky academic credentials, numerous sources said.
Alaeze, a product of Randallstown High in Baltimore County, initially committed to the Terrapins as a member of the Class of 2005 but failed to qualify. He played last fall at Hargrave Military Academy but left the prep school in December, following one semester.
The 6-2, 280-pounder was named a high school All-American by Parade Magazine, USA Today, Rivals.com and SuperPrep Magazine after piling up 110 tackles (30.5 for loss) and 18.5 sacks as a senior at Randallstown.
Rated the nation's No. 1 defensive end by ESPN.com analyst Tom Lemming and Rivals.com, Alaeze was named the defensive MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He had more than 50 scholarship offers, most from top programs in the major conferences, coming out of high school.
Alaeze reportedly graduated from Randallstown with a 2.3 GPA but was unable to obtain the SAT score he needed to qualify for freshman eligibility. He then failed to achieve the necessary score after re-taking the test at least twice while at Hargrave.
Sources said the Maryland staff recently learned that Alaeze had not taken the SAT since leaving Hargrave, despite the fact that he remained short of a passing score.
"He was not going to get in on grades," a source told the Sun. "He was going to try to get a waiver, which would state that he had a learning disability."
Maryland won another recruiting battle for Alaeze last February, when he signed a second letter of intent. Friedgen had high praise for the five-star prospect on national signing day, indicating that the youngster had the ability to start as a true freshman.
"Melvin is 280 pounds and has tremendous acceleration," said Friedgen, noting that Alaeze had run the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds and posted a vertical leap of 34 inches. "He's really fit, he's more mature, and we're really looking for him to make an impact."
The Terps are coming off a 5-6 season and have a big need on the defensive line. They ranked ninth in the ACC in sacks last fall with just 21.
"I think Melvin can make an immediate impact," Maryland defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo said on signing day, "because we need a pure pass rusher."
So, with sudden finality, an elite prospect Maryland pursued for three straight years is gone from the program without ever appearing in a game. Alaeze now is free to sign elsewhere, and Penn State, Virginia Tech and West Virginia reportedly are among the many schools showing interest.
Many are praising Friedgen for showing some ethics and Maryland for sticking to its standards. However, in the cutthroat world of college athletics, the moral high road can be treacherous. If Alaeze goes to another school and performs well on the field, this decision could come back to haunt the Terrapins. It will be particularly tough to swallow if the big-time prospect winds up with a program (ACC or otherwise) that routinely plays Maryland.
There also could be some fallout on the recruiting trail if Class of 2007 prospects perceive that Friedgen and the Terps mistreated Alaeze in any way. Remember that Maryland still is trying to recover from the debacle involving Forestville offensive lineman Antonio Logan-El, who said negative things about the program when he reneged on a commitment and signed with Penn State.
Logan-El was among the many highly rated prospects from the Maryland-D.C. region who spurned the home-state school, a development many area high school coaches blamed on a lack of effort from the Terps' staff.
Meanwhile, the loss of Alaeze continued a remarkable run of failure by Maryland with regard to recruiting local, national-caliber defensive end prospects.
Derrick Harvey of Greenbelt Roosevelt (2003) and Victor Abiamiri of Baltimore Gilman (2004) also were rated the nation's top rush end by multiple recruiting services. Harvey chose Florida over Maryland and others. Abiamiri signed with Notre Dame after it was revealed that he had accepted money from then-Maryland assistant Rod Sharpless.