National Signing Day: Maryland, Randy Edsall bolstering border patrol

Suitland wide receiver Taivon Jacobs announces he’s attending Maryland over Ohio State on National Signing Day. (Eric Detweiler/The Washington Post)
Jason Reid
Columnist February 6, 2013

University of Maryland football fans still are waiting for Coach Randy Edsall to prove he’s right for his job. You can’t expect them to be happy after Edsall went 6-18 in his first two seasons combined in College Park. But perhaps Edsall’s encouraging performance in recruiting should inspire at least a little confidence.

Off the field, Edsall has won. In the Terrapins’ 22-man recruiting class announced Wednesday, there are 14 players from Maryland and the District, including several of the more highly regarded. By signing some of the area’s top prep standouts in the school’s last two classes, Edsall actually has earned a reputation as a closer.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

He has received favorable marks from high school coaches for his successful efforts in Maryland and the District, recruiting regions essential to Edsall’s plan to rebuild the program. Eventually, Edsall’s progress on the recruiting trail will have to result in victories on the field in the fall. And it will take a few years to determine whether today’s hot recruits will develop into tomorrow’s top players for the Terrapins. But Edsall and his staff have executed their recruiting plan well, which is something worth talking about.

“When you are in the Maryland and the D.C. area, there are quite a few athletes who can make an impact,” Edsall said. “With kids being from here, you can create that sense of pride. We can all be here at home and make something special happen.”

Pick any top-25 Football Bowl Subdivision program, and I’ll show you one that excels at recruiting in-state players. Alabama, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, Southern California and others have benefited historically from persuading many of the best players in their talent-rich states to stay near home for college. In recruiting talk, it’s called “locking down the borders.” Edsall seems determined to build a wall.

The Avalon School’s Jacquille Veii made his decision to attend the Unviersity of Maryland on National Signing Day. Teammates Tommy Vince and Rachid Ibrahim signed letters of intent to Catholic University and University of Pittsburgh, respectively. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

From a recruiting perspective, the District essentially is in-state for the Terrapins. The last two athletes chosen as Gatorade’s District player of the year have signed with Maryland. Three of the top four players from the District, according to recruiting Web sites, also are on board. Talk to high school coaches, and they’ll tell you Maryland, in the past two classes, has attracted better players than it had during several recruiting cycles before Edsall arrived.

After leaving Connecticut for Maryland, Edsall quickly reached out to local high school coaches, many of whom he had known for years while recruiting the area as he climbed the coaching ranks. His message? The Terrapins are all-in to get the best guys out there.

Gilman School Coach Biff Poggi likes Edsall’s approach. “Randy and his staff . . . they get after it,” Poggi said. “For kids at my place, Maryland is a serious competitor now. They really weren’t before.”

History proves it. Last year, the Terrapins signed their first player from Gilman, perennially among Maryland’s best high school programs since the 1980s. And another Gilman player is in this year’s class. Edsall re-opened that door,

Recruiting is like getting a reservation for the best table in the hottest restaurant: It’s all about relationships. Although Edsall stumbled early dealing with the media, he’s in his comfort zone around high school coaches. Friendship Collegiate Academy Coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim trusts Edsall; they think alike about what’s most important to develop players.

“He preaches player accountability,” Rahim said. “And he treats the high-profile kids the same as he treats the walk-ons. If you’re trying to build a program the right way, there’s nothing more important than that.”

Of course, Edsall isn’t a solo artist. Assistant coaches spend countless hours texting, calling and visiting recruits. They do the early relationship building that, hopefully, will pay off on signing day.

The Friendship Collegiate star committed to Maryland on National Signing Day. (James Sherrill for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC/The Washington Post)

That’s why Edsall brought back Mike Locksley as offensive coordinator. Edsall’s 2-10 opening season was pretty much a disaster. Still, Maryland finished with a recruiting class ranked 35th nationally by one site. Edsall, though, wanted Maryland to climb higher. Locksley is considered among the best in the business at closing.

More than a decade ago, Locksley delivered for former head coach Ralph Friedgen even before Friedgen took over after Ron Vandelinden was fired in 2000. As Maryland’s recruiting coordinator from 1998 to 2003, Locksley assembled the classes that provided the foundation for three seasons of at least 10 victories from the 2001-03 seasons. Friedgen never won as many as 10 games in his final seven seasons at Maryland.

Locksley also was a successful recruiter as an assistant coach at Florida and Illinois. He was fired after only two seasons as New Mexico’s head coach. Edsall hired Locksley to run the offense and do what he does best: get players. This season’s class is ranked as high as 30th, which isn’t surprising to Good Counsel Coach Bob Milloy.

Locksley is “just from another planet,” Milloy said. “I’ve never seen anybody work a room and talk to kids like he does. And he just sells ’em.”

Maybe a little of Locksley’s recruiting charm is rubbing off on the head coach. Edsall used his one-on-one skills, Maryland people say, to persuade wide receiver Taivon Jacobs, a two-time Post All-Met selection from Suitland High, to sign with Maryland. Jacobs originally made a verbal commitment to Ohio State.

We closed strong,” Edsall said. “That says something.”

Edsall and Maryland definitely are making a statement in recruiting. Their next big move needs to come in the win-loss column.

For previous columns by Jason Reid, visit washingtonpost.com/reid.

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