Penn State's Lure Is Not A Good Sign for Maryland

Antonio Logan-El, Navorro Bowman
Antonio Logan-El and Navorro Bowman are just two of the eight prominent Washington area football recruits to commit to Penn State. (Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post)
By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

The commitments came steadily through the fall, then into winter. One top area high school football player after another, it seemed, had said Maryland was one of his "finalists" . . . only to choose Penn State.

Mount Hebron defensive end Aaron Maybin was the first to commit, and four others from the area followed. Each of them is considered a top prospect, and each said he thought about signing with Maryland. But each will make an official commitment to play for Penn State during college football's signing period for high school seniors, which begins today. In all, Penn State is expected to receive commitments from eight of the region's top players, including six All-Mets. By contrast, Maryland, which has made a point of recruiting heavily in this area and had high interest in many of those same players, is expected to ink two All-Mets.

One person involved in the recruiting process attributed the exodus of top area players to Penn State to a "perfect storm" of decisions and events in recent months. The factors at work included:

· The work of Penn State assistant coach Larry Johnson, who recruits the area for the Nittany Lions and has strong local ties after having coached McDonough High in Charles County to three state titles in the 1980s and '90s.

· The decision by Nittany Lions coaches to play underclassmen last fall, which amplified the impact of Penn State's signing of Eleanor Roosevelt's Derrick Williams, considered by some the nation's top recruit last year.

· A change in the coaching staff and local recruiting coordinators at Maryland.

· The resurgence of the Nittany Lions program coupled with the Terrapins' struggles the past two seasons.

"You have to be somewhat concerned that the players considered the top ones in the Washington area have chosen to go elsewhere," said Lackey Coach Scott Chadwick, who saw Johnson at work up close when Chargers All-Met offensive lineman J.B. Walton -- who was considering Maryland -- committed to Penn State last month.

The case of Forestville lineman Antonio Logan-El gained special attention in Maryland circles. The 6-foot-6, 300-pounder gave the Terrapins an oral commitment before his sophomore season in 2003, but backed off that stance before this season. When he chose Penn State last week in a televised announcement at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore, several Terrapins fans in attendance booed heartily; one heckler screamed "traitor."

But after the television lights were turned off and the announcement was made, Logan-El felt a tap on the back of his shoulder. He turned and saw the familiar smile and crisp suit of Johnson, a coach he had become well acquainted with during the past year.

"Last May, [Johnson] told all these young guys that [Penn State] was going to play these young guys and then they do it," Forestville Coach Charles Harley said. "So now they think it's going to be them. And some of them are bandwagon hoppers. Almost like [the University of Michigan basketball team's] Fab Five -- once a couple jumped on, the rest said, 'I want to be a part of that.' I don't think I've ever seen anything like that before."

Penn State went 11-1 last season and finished with a No. 3 ranking by the Associated Press after a victory over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Maryland has gone 5-6 in each of the last two seasons. A Maryland athletic department spokesman said Coach Ralph Friedgen and his assistants would not comment for this story.

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