Late last year, Maryland inside linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski drove to McDonogh School, located northwest of Baltimore just off Interstate 795, to scout the Eagles football team. He was there to scout one particular player, likely offensive lineman Jared Cohen, a four-star recruit. But during the game, another player caught his eye. Wearing jersey No. 1, the defensive back flew around the field. He sprung toward passes quickly and wrapped up tackles well, too.
So Dudzinski came back to College Park and queued up film of the player, Josh Woods. Then he took it to recruiting coordinator John Dunn, defensive coordinator Brian Stewart and Coach Randy Edsall. Everyone agreed. The Terrapins should be recruiting Woods.
Edsall told this story Tuesday afternoon, smiling with pride as he recounted the transformation of Woods, who grew from a 5-feet-5 bamboo stalk three years ago into a Division I cornerback, one who signed his letter-of-intent to play for Maryland on National Signing Day.
“There’s guy who might not have been on anybody’s radar,” Edsall said. “But you go out, you evaluate, you talk, you evaluate, you ask coaches who you play against. Those are the best things you can do.”
According to Rivals, Scout and 247sports.com, Maryland’s class of 2014 was not among the nation’s 40 best, and at this juncture in the building process under Edsall, expecting five-star recruits – or even more than a handful of four-stars — to regularly strut through the doors to Gossett Team House is unrealistic. Perhaps in the future, if everything goes according to plan, but right now the Terps were pleased scoring 17 commitments, only four of whom were ranked among the top 300 players nationally.
Of those 17, many claimed interest from programs outside the Football Bowl Subdivision and, for them, Maryland provided their highest-profile offer. Offensive lineman Sean Christie, for instance, reportedly had offers from just Maryland and Albany. Defensive end Brett Kulka had Akron, Bucknell, Buffalo and Kent State on his 247sports.com profile. Safety Antwaine Carter and linebacker Nnamdi Egbuaba were so off the radar that they didn’t have star ratings before committing to Maryland.
But these are exactly the high-schoolers with whom Edsall wants to fill his class, because he has always prided himself on unearthing prospects unfamiliar to rival schools or recruiting Web sites. Players develop. They experience growth spurts later. Recruiting rankings correlate fine to future success, but there are always individuals who slip through the cracks, and it is with these players that Maryland must now hang its hat. Both Edsall and Dunn brushed aside terms like “under-the-radar” and “late-bloomer,” but viewed in the context of national perception and the machine of discourse that drives recruiting today, those are perfectly accurate characterizations of many future Terps.
“It’s just the way this process is. Kids don’t go to camps, they don’t go to the combines that these sites have to get rated,” Edsall said. “There’s kids who mature a little bit later than other guys who might grow a few more inches, put on a little bit more pounds. One of those things I thought we did well as a staff this year is we kept a couple in our pocket. There are guys who do come on between their junior and senior year because they develop, they mature a little more.”
Sounds like Egbuaba, for instance, could easily be classified as a late-bloomer. He has played just 13 months of American football after immigrating from Nigeria, but in all of Edsall’s years recruiting high school players, the coach couldn’t remember another player who attacked the football as hard as Egbuaba.
All told, Maryland had three oral decommitments for its class of 2014 – Cohen, safety Jordan Noil and running back Johnathan Thomas – so the class might have looked different when them on board. But in hindsight, Edsall said, he liked that the Terps “kept a couple in our pocket,” meaning they waited for some potential late-bloomers – or whatever one wants to call them – rather than throwing offers to the wind and hoping some come back.
“We got some really good players that maybe the sites didn’t rate that high,” Edsall said. “But you put the film on and they’re pretty good football players.”