At the auto repair shop across the street, in between the broken-down cars and spare parts, Juwann Winfree practiced running routes. The Englewood, N.J., garage was closed on weekends, so one day Carl Winfree had the idea to turn the mechanic’s maze into an obstacle course for his young son. The cars were defenders, Juwann the wide receiver, Carl the quarterback from the family’s front lawn.
Carl played basketball for Sacred Heart University in Connecticut and overseas in Israel and Germany for five more years. That experience, he knew, could help Juwann. Carl’s youngest child of three gravitated toward football from an early age, and wanted to become a scholarship athlete. “I knew what it would take for him to get to that point,” Carl Winfree said. “Training, training, training. Competing, competing, competing. And more training.”
So Juwann ran crossing patterns, deep patterns and slant patterns, weaving through the four-doors acting as defensive backs, the football zipping across the street and, sometimes, over passing cars. Even back then, Juwann had the hands.
Years later, the two-way Dwight Morrow High School star parlayed his driveway training into an oral commitment to the Maryland football team, officially announcing his decision on Friday afternoon. Terrapins Coach Randy Edsall wanted just one wide receiver for the class of 2014, and Juwann was his top choice.
Yet for some time, the sentiment was relatively one-sided. When the letters started flooding the family mailbox during Juwann’s junior year, Maryland moved to the fringes of his list. Traditional powerhouse like Georgia, South Carolina and Michigan received more notice, but one thing kept the Terrapins around: Stefon Diggs, Juwann’s favorite player, the background image on his home computer.
Carl and Juwann visited Maryland last season for a 33-13 drubbing by Georgia Tech, the first game linebacker Shawn Petty started at quarterback. The announced attendance was 33,471, but maybe 15,000 remained by halftime.
“I wasn’t impressed with what I saw,” Carl Winfree said Saturday by phone. “The fan support wasn’t there, the stadium was half-empty. I didn’t feel the energy here for football.”
“Ehh,” Juwann kept replying. “But Stef Diggs, that’s my man.”
So they took a closer look. Juwann trimmed his list to six schools, and Carl said Maryland was either fifth or sixth. They visited Georgia and saw how a top 10 program operated, but the Bulldogs wanted Juwann, who plays free safety for Dwight Morrow, on defense. Maryland offered him at wide receiver, his love ever since those repair-shop days.
So they took an official visit last weekend and watched the Terps blast West Virginia, 37-0, in Baltimore. They wandered through the M&T Bank Stadium parking lots, through the pregame tailgaters, and saw an atmosphere they never knew existed. They met Diggs and teammate Deon Long, a junior wide receiver who could jump to the NFL after this season, both examples of what Juwann Winfree hoped to become.
“I see the way he carries himself, professionally, he works hard,” Carl Winfree said of Diggs. “I see the way he runs routes, he runs them professionally. He’s looked up to. As long as he doesn’t get hurt, he’s going to the next level. I said: ‘Juwann, this is a guy you’re going to be around. You’re going to learn his habits, and learn the way he does things.’ Then I met Deon Long. Those two wide receivers, they’re going next level. They’re going to be playing on Sundays.”
On the car ride home, Juwann began discussing the future. Once Carl and his wife, a registered nurse who ran track in high school, sat their son down to talk at home, he had an answer. They cancelled their remaining official visits and called the other recruiters to break the news.
“No sense to keep them guessing,” Carl Winfree said. “Let’s do it. We think Maryland has the most potential out of all those other schools.”