June 10, 2002 COLLEGE PARK This looms as a crucial recruiting season for the Maryland football program on a number of levels.
The Terrapins need to capitalize on a remarkable 2001 season that saw them capture the ACC championship and earn a berth in the Orange Bowl. Coach Ralph Friedgen thought the breakthrough campaign would pay dividends on the recruiting trail last winter, but it just didn't happen. Maryland pursued a slew of national prospects and got some serious nibbles after the team's surprising run gained momentum, but almost all of the big names were too far along in the recruiting process to be swayed.
However, it stands to reason that Maryland will be viewed in a different light by this year's rising seniors, who are just now beginning to narrow their collegiate lists.
Another reason this summer is so important to the Terps is that the Maryland-D.C. region boasts a bumper crop of recruits. The 2002-03 class is widely regarded as the deepest and most talented to come out of this area in at least a decade. By most accounts, there are at least eight national prospects in Maryland-D.C., and Friedgen is in hot pursuit of them all. It will be nearly impossible to pull of a clean sweep, but the Fridge has told his staff that he wants and expects at least half.
The Terrapins have one advantage in that they have known about all eight potential All-Americans for several years. Many have attended the Maryland football camp the past two summers. Recruiting coordinator Mike Locksley has personally laid the groundwork with most of the local prospects. When it comes to covering his state like a glove, not many in the ACC are as thorough as Locksley.
The downside is that there are so many variables when dealing with national prospects. Long-term relationships and home-state school pride often are forgotten amid the glitz of being recruited by the likes of Texas, UCLA, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida State and Miami. Maryland still does not have the reputation of such premier programs and will need a few more winning seasons and bowl berths before being able to match the aforementioned in terms of a proven track record.
Heading the list of regional stars is deluxe defensive end Victor Abiamiri of Baltimore Gilman. A 6-5, 245-pound manchild who probably could start for Maryland this coming season as a high school senior, Abiamiri is a Julius Peppers-type in terms of size and athleticism. Like Peppers, Abiamiri also is a power-dunking machine as a forward in basketball.
Maryland would appear to have an in with the Abiamiri family, as both of Victor's brothers are on scholarship in College Park. Receiver Rob Abiamiri will be a redshirt sophomore for the Terps this fall, while receiver Paschal Abiamiri is an incoming freshman. Truth be told, the middle brother was a marginal recruit who received a scholarship offer prior to his senior season in part because Friedgen wanted to show a commitment to the family. It was an extremely wise and savvy move, as the parents appear to be favoring the Terps.
On the other hand, Victor Abiamiri plays at Gilman, whereas his brothers played at Mount St. Joseph, which also is located in Baltimore. Gilman has produced several collegiate prospects in recent years, but Maryland hasn't been overly interested in any. That the Terps haven't actively recruited his players reportedly has annoyed coach Biff Poggi, and suffice to say Locksley has work to do in terms of warming relations between the two sides.
Gilman has another national-caliber recruit this year in Ambrose Wooden, a quarterback who probably will be recruited as an athlete. Wooden is a tremendous speedster, a legitimate 4.4 type who captured conference championships in both the 100- and 200-meter sprints.
Another Baltimore-area recruit who will be difficult to land is Keon Lattimore, a wide receiver/running back from Mount St. Joseph. Lattimore, a stud athlete, is the half-brother of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Lattimore lives with Lewis and drives an expensive sports car, bought by Lewis as a reward for a strong junior season. Lewis has made no secret about which school he favors, telling anyone who asks that Lattimore is a done deal for Miami. While the Hurricanes have yet to offer a scholarship, there is no doubt those ties will be tough for the Terps to break.
Maryland is in much better shape with Brandywine Gwynn Park linebacker Wesley Jefferson (6-3, 235), St. John's-D.C. defensive tackle Conrad Bolston (6-4, 265) and Bowie running back Barrington Edwards (6-2, 205). All rate the Terps high on their lists and have developed good relationships with the staff as a whole.
Some analysts are calling Edwards the best prep running back to come out of the state in more than a decade. A powerfully built 6-2, 212-pounder, he ran over and around defenders in rushing for 2,321 yards and 27 touchdowns as a junior. Major scholarship offers began pouring in after Edwards stunned scouts with a jaw-dropping performance at the Nike Combine held at Penn State. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds and clocked a phenomenal time of 3.99 in the 20-yard pro agility drills. Among 20 early scholarship offers were those from Georgia, LSU, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, UCLA and Virginia. The Terps feel good about their connections with Bowie High after getting standout middle linebacker Reggie Holmes from that Prince George's County school this year.
Maryland was the first school to offer Hyattsville DeMatha quarterback Ryan Mitch, who is a pro-style signal caller in terms of size (6-3) and arm strength. UCLA, Boston College, Virginia, North Carolina and Clemson also have tendered scholarships to Mitch. Jefferson is similar to Abiamiri in that he's a freak of nature remarkably fast, quick and mobile for someone
6-3, 235. Bolston, by some accounts, is every bit as good a defensive tackle as Randy Starks, who shined for the Terps last season in significant action as a true freshman.
Another amazing physical specimen the Maryland staff wants badly is jumbo athlete Vernon Davis of Dunbar High in D.C. Friedgen envisions the speedy 6-3, 240-pounder, who played safety and wide receiver as a junior, as an H-back who can do multiple things in the team's diverse offense. Maryland has done well at Dunbar in recent years, picking up fullback James Lynch and safety Marcus Wimbush from the perennially powerful program.
Williams Targets Jones, Fofana
Maryland basketball is now dealing from a position of strength after making consecutive
Final Four appearances and capturing the national championship.
The Terps, at least on the surface, now have the luxury of being a bit more selective in the recruiting process, as a bevy of big-time prospects are interested. Coach Gary Williams and staff are spending more time evaluating players and reportedly have only a handful of scholarship offers on the table. Maryland has three grants to give, although a fourth may become available if the NCAA (as is being discussed) changes its five/eight rule back to five/nine for another year. Remember, barring academic casualties, the Terps will have an incoming class of five players this fall.
Perhaps the most pressing priority is for an athletic, slashing small forward, as there really isn't one in the program. Junior college transfer Jamar Smith projects to start at the three position next season, with true freshman Nik Caner-Medley waiting in the wings. Yet some think Caner-Medley is best suited to operating around the basket and will never be a true wing player. Early indications from the recruiting trail this year are that the Terps favor (and have offered) top-50 prospect Sean Banks, a 6-7, 195-pounder from New Jersey. A strong three-point shooter with solid ball-handling skills and the athleticism to dunk and finish around the rim, he recently told recruiting analysts that Maryland is his early No. 1 school.
Another need is for a scoring guard to eventually replace departed All-American Juan Dixon and rising senior Drew Nicholas. Here, Maryland clearly has its sights set on top-25 prospect Mike Jones out of Thayer Academy in Massachusetts. Jones, at 6-4 and 195 pounds, is a powerfully built and physical guard who can drain jumpers from the perimeter or post up smaller defenders. He also had the Terps at the top of his most recent list, and his most recent public comments suggested that it would be a shock if he ended up signing with anyone else. Barring a complete change of heart, he's the most likely prospect in the Class of 2003 to commit to Maryland within the next month or so.
A big man is another priority, as Ryan Randle and Tahj Holden both will be departing after next season. The staff has put extensive time and effort into its pursuit of Hassan Fofana, a native of Guinea who preps at Holy Name Academy in Massachusetts. Fofana, a bulky center at 6-9 and (at least) 255 pounds, reminds many of former Maryland center Obinna Ekezie. However, Fofana is much further along, both in terms of athleticism and skills, than Ekezie was at the same stage of his career. Fofana's rebounding and defense already rank with some of the top big men in the prep ranks. He's considered one of the top 50 rising seniors in the nation by most analysts.