For Terps, a Disappearing Act
Friday, January 27, 2006; 2:21 AM
It was, according to some people involved with the recruiting process, one of the uglier messes in the often sordid business of big-time recruiting.
University of Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen and his staff were incensed. Their fans were irate. And less than 24 hours after announcing he had chosen to attend Penn State, Forestville All-Met offensive lineman Antonio Logan-El felt some remorse about the way things went down on what should have been one of his happiest days yet.
First, the background:
Before Logan-El's sophomore year, Maryland offered a scholarship and Logan-El quickly accepted. At the end of his junior year -- the beginning of last summer -- as other schools' interest levels rose, Logan-El decided to look around. He continued to say Maryland was at the top of his list, but the his recruitment was quickly becoming a race between Maryland and Penn State, many believed.
This past Sunday, at the Maryland-Wake Forest men's basketball game, the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Logan-El was front and center with noted Terrapin alum and ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt. The teenager, wearing a Maryland football jersey he bought soon after committing during his sophomore year, confirmed that he sang the school fight song at game's end, waving his arms in the air during the portion where the state name is spelled out.
On Tuesday, Logan-El was scheduled to announce his college choice at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore during a live interview on ESPNEWS, airtime that Logan-El said was facilitated by Van Pelt. Logan-El said ESPN staffers gave him a list of dates that were available, so Tuesday it was, even though it meant missing that night's game for the Forestville basketball team. (The Knights ended up winning in overtime.) Messages posted on a popular Internet message board encouraged Maryland fans to attend what turned out to be a circus.
With a throng of Maryland fans in attendance -- as well as a large number of Nittany Lion fans -- Logan-El went through a well-rehearsed shtick with hats and a photo before announcing he had chosen Penn State.
The immediate outburst boomed from one Maryland fan: "Traitor!"
Anticipating such a reaction, Logan-El said he, his mother and grandfather had instructed assembled family members to cheer loudly to drown out any boos or other negative reactions. They received some help when Friedgen's wife Gloria, in attendance, turned to the unruly fan and bluntly said: "We'll win with him or without him." Another Maryland booster was somewhat less polite in telling the fan to grow up.
It was a combustible situation. Maryland fans were hopeful that the highly-regarded Logan-El would choose their school. Logan-El was wearing a black suit with a red tie, which he later attributed to an unfortunate oversight, not meaning to give more hope by wearing a tie in Maryland's school color.
"Since my suit was black, the red and black combination was a nice combination," he said. "It wasn't like I thought I'd let them see me in red and black so they can think I'm going there."
Logan-El had closely protected the secret that he was going to attend Penn State. Forestville Coach Charles Harley said he was unaware of the choice until the announcement. Logan-El said he made the decision the previous week, but attended the Maryland-Wake Forest game wanting to see if meeting with Friedgen one last time would change his mind. In that case, with his decision made for Penn State, wearing the Maryland football jersey might not have been the best idea.
"People said I shouldn't have worn my Maryland jersey, but I'm going to a Maryland game, what am I going to wear, my Wake Forest jersey? Or I'm going to wear a Penn State jersey? That's disrespectful."
In a process where adults -- coaches and fans alike -- fawn over teenagers they hope will take their team to the promised land, respect and courtesy sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Looking back, Logan-El said on Wednesday, he would have notified Friedgen and coaches from Florida and Tennessee about his decision beforehand. Instead, ever hopeful, Friedgen dialed his wife's cell phone and she placed it against a speaker so that Friedgen could learn the news.
"If I had the chance to do it over, I would call the coaches and tell them where I'm going so a lot of this ruckus wouldn't have happened," Logan-El said. "I still feel fine with my decision. But as far as making my [announcement], I would change things. I thought I was having fun and enjoying what they call the life of the recruit."
On Wednesday afternoon, after some of the dust had settled, Logan-El phoned the coaches at Florida, Tennessee and Maryland to thank them for recruiting him. With Tennessee and Florida, he said, the calls went smoothly; perhaps that was because those coaches had little expectation of signing Logan-El. Friedgen and recruiting coordinator Dave Sollazzo, Logan-El said, were not as cordial.
"It didn't go well," Logan-El said. "He was pretty upset that I'm not going to the University of Maryland. Same with Coach Sollazzo. I appreciated how they handled everything with so much class and they kind of went over the deep end, but it's okay now."
Logan-El noted that Friedgen and his assistants, while not pleased, had a much different reaction when he met face-to-face with them to inform them he wanted to look at other schools. Of course, that was when there still was a chance that Logan-El was going to Maryland. No chance Friedgen and company would anger a recruit at that point.
Of course, some skeptics wonder how long Logan-El has known he wanted to go to Penn State. His official campus visit -- something most recruits take prior to making their choice -- is scheduled for this weekend. Shortly after Logan-El went off the air Tuesday, Penn State assistant Larry Johnson, who recruits the Washington area, and two other Nittany Lions staffers arrived at the ESPN Zone.
(NCAA rules prohibit Johnson from saying when he learned of Logan-El's decision because coaches cannot comment on prospective recruits until they sign binding letters-of-intent. The period for signing those letters begins Wednesday.)
Logan-El said it was merely a coincidence, that Johnson had sent him a text message that morning saying the trio would be nearby just in case good news broke. If not, they would get back on the road.
The news was good, so Johnson and the other Penn State coaches joined the celebration.
Three Join Tribe
Lost in the shuffle this week, three Washington area players committed to William & Mary: Centreville wide receiver Cam Dohse, Lake Braddock lineman Kyle Allison and Gaithersburg safety Mike Alvarado. Gaithersburg Coach Kreg Kephart said that while the Tribe recruited Alvarado to play defense, Coach Jimmye Laycock came away impressed after watching Alvarado play basketball this week and might use Alvarado on offense. . . .
Centreville lineman Colin Miller committed to Central Michigan.