Oddly enough, Walker had also made up his mind that he was going to commit to Maryland on Saturday during a passing league camp at the school. While the idea of playing with teammates in college was enticing, it wasn’t a deciding factor for Walker.
“I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” he said. “But that didn’t affect the decision for me. I was going there no matter what.”
Within 24 hours, Maryland, which has struggled in the past to lure some of the area’s top local talent, had hauled in three recruits — all the from the same school. The players turned down offers from major Football Bowl Subdivision schools to stay close to home and help turn Maryland around when they graduate.
“We didn’t want to be followers and we wanted to start a trend. Everybody wants to go to like a Florida State. . . . There will be a change up there [in College Park]. There are commits going there every day.”
Added Ngakoue: “I wanted to be at the school that’s on the come-up. I don’t want to go to a school that’s just a top program. I want to be at a school that we can be part of history and our names are there because we turned history around.”
Each player said they chose Maryland because it was a good fit for them and each cited a number of reasons. Gray, a massive 6-foot-5, 260-pound lineman, chose Maryland over finalists such as Arkansas, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma because he would have the chance to get on the field quickly.
“I’m a player that wants to get in and play early,” he said. “ And I know I can made an impact on the squad.”
Ngakoue, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker who also had offers from schools such as Auburn, Florida and Florida State, cited being near home as one of his factors for picking Maryland.
“It’s my home town and hometown school and I wanted to stay so my mother could come to games,” he said. “She’s always been there for me.”
Walker, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound linebacker whose other finalist was N.C. State, added that Maryland had the academics he was looking for. “They got my major [sports medicine] and they got a family feel,” he said.
Gray and Ngakoue transferred to the Northeast public charter school this winter after having spent the football season at Dunbar and Carroll, respectively. Walker transferred in from Dunbar at the start of the school year but missed his junior season with a broken foot. All three said they were ready to commit to Maryland so they went ahead and did it.
Maryland has made recent inroads with local recruits, including landing Class of 2012 players such as Stefon Diggs, the All-Met Defensive Player from Good Counsel and Albert Reid, an All-Met running back from Friendship Collegiate.
Because College Park is close, the three recent Friendship Collegiate recruits got a chance to build a relationship with their recruiters and visit often. The Terrapins also benefitted from the addition of offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, a Ballou graduate with strong local ties to area high school coaches. Gray said he liked head coach Randy Edsall and his discipline.
“[Locksley] was definitely a big impact,” Ngakoue said. “If you look at his track record, he helps put people in the [NFL].”
By choosing the Terrapins, the recruits also said they could send a message to other area players, such Friendship Collegiate sophomore defensive back Jalen Tabor, one of the area’s top recruits and a Maryland target.
“We can make that team better and show people in this area you can make that team better,” Ngakoue said.