Maryland freshman Justus Pickett is no longer ‘Mr. Irrelevant’

October 4, 2011

When Maryland running back Justus Pickett scored on a five-yard run against Towson on Saturday, the freshman remained on the ground a little longer than usual as teammates rushed over to help him celebrate the first touchdown of his college career. Pickett wanted to soak in the moment after what had been an eight-month whirlwind.

During that time, Pickett went from what his current head coach calls “Mr. Irrelevant” — he was added to Maryland’s recruiting class after signing day — to an emerging playmaker after a frenzied 11th-hour courtship that illustrates how quickly fortunes can change in cutthroat recruiting battles.

During the week of national signing day last winter, Pickett made an official visit to the University of Arkansas. Running out of time to choose a college, the talented running back from Charlotte was on the verge of committing to the Razorbacks when Maryland’s coaches reached out to Pickett and his high school coach, Adam Hastings.

Lee Hull, the Maryland wide receivers coach whom the newly hired Randy Edsall had retained from the previous staff, called to tell Pickett and Hastings that Pickett needed to give the Terrapins a look and visit the following week. Edsall called and talked about how Pickett would be used in Maryland’s new-look spread offense.

Pickett had not previously been interested in Maryland because, he said, the former staff’s offense did not fit his style. But during the visit to College Park, Pickett became enamored with the new coaches and the university. Coaches told Pickett he would have a chance to play as a freshman.

Edsall knew he needed another running back, but there was no guarantee he could secure a player with the potential of the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Pickett so late in the process. Signing day had already passed. Pickett, who had a 38-inch vertical leap and who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, had rushed for 2,429 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior at Ardrey Kell High in Charlotte. Arkansas and West Virginia were among the high-profile schools that wanted him.

But Edsall had something other schools didn’t — a recruiting ace in his pocket.

Former NFL running back Natrone Means was Pickett’s Pop Warner coach for seven years and developed a relationship with Pickett when the player was 8 years old.

Means had also played on the Jacksonville Jaguars in the mid-1990s while Edsall was there as an assistant. Edsall, who said he did not talk to Means about Pickett’s recruitment, said Means talked to Pickett and his family about Maryland’s first-year head coach. Pickett recalled Means telling him that Edsall was a great coach.

“We were fortunate to get him,” Edsall said of Pickett. “That’s why all this stuff with recruiting is so non-scientific. Here is a guy who was really Mr. Irrelevant, so to speak, the last guy we took, was really a guy we feel is going to have a great opportunity to be a very, very good player here.”

Edsall has said that Pickett has shown maturity and confidence beyond his age. He impressed coaches throughout preseason camp and earned a backup role to starting running back Davin Meggett, a senior co-captain.

On Saturday, Pickett increasingly became the best option to run the ball. He finished with 82 rushing yards on 14 carries. Edsall said that Pickett has shown that he deserves more carries.

“He is going to tear it up the next few years,” wide receiver Kevin Dorsey said.

Quarterback Danny O’Brien said Pickett has stood out not only because of his big runs in practice and productivity in games, but also because of his focus and poise, which was evident early among teammates.

“You hear the word poise all the time,” O’Brien said. “Last year I didn’t even know what it meant. I found out what it was when I saw Justus. He is so poised. Having him in there in the Miami game, packed house, and seeing him be the same guy he always is, that is what showed me what poise is.”

Pickett scored his first touchdown Saturday. It is unlikely to be his last.

“That,” Pickett said, “is one of the things I have been waiting for.”

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