There was no mistaking the sales pitch that Maryland made to Ike Whitaker. The most unsettled position on the Terrapins' roster was quarterback. Whitaker, the Northwest High star, had pretty much narrowed his college choice to the Terrapins and Virginia Tech. At Maryland, he would have a chance to start as a freshman, perhaps leading the state school as it tried to reclaim a spot near the top of the ACC.
"They made no bones about it," Northwest Coach Randy Trivers said. "They wanted him to be the quarterback of the future and felt he was good enough to come in there and compete. And he made no secret that was something that intrigued him."
As much as that interested Whitaker, though, tomorrow night he will be a spectator on the visitor's sideline at Byrd Stadium when Virginia Tech plays Maryland. Instead of vying to be the Terrapins' quarterback, Whitaker chose to go to Virginia Tech, where he is a freshman redshirting while junior Marcus Vick leads the third-ranked Hokies.
For all of the gains Maryland has made in Friedgen's tenure, he knows there is a ways to go before the Terrapins are on equal footing with some of the schools against which they often compete for players.
"Sometimes you have to have a tradition that is longer than three years," Coach Ralph Friedgen said, alluding to the 31 victories in his first three seasons before last year's 5-6 finish. "Eventually, that's what I would like to have. I just went through Ohio and every kid there dreams of going to Ohio State and they come in late [in the recruiting process] and get those kids. I'd like to get to that point, but we're not there yet.
"Virginia and Virginia Tech have had a little longer tradition of winning. George Welsh got Virginia going [in the 1980s] and tailed a little bit but not a lot. [Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer] has had a chance to build that program over 19 years. I would like to think over the same amount of time, we will be able to do that also."
Football recruiting is an inexact science, as much about quantity in some senses as it is about quality. On an individual level, being a highly ranked recruit does not guarantee success at the college level, and even well-regarded classes can fall short of expectations. Still, the schools ranked highly by recruiting gurus from year to year tend to be the same schools that finish among the best on the field.
Friedgen believes his staff is making progress, having landed what most experts regarded as top-20 classes the past two seasons. Maryland currently has five players from Virginia, but only one starter, wide receiver Derrick Fenner of Hampton. Virginia Tech has five players from Maryland and three from Washington on its roster with guard Jason Murphy of Baltimore the only starter.
"We really hit the state of Virginia hard, and we include Maryland and the Washington area in that same vicinity," said Virginia Tech recruiting coordinator Jim Cavanaugh, who was a Maryland assistant in the 1980s. "If you're in Northern Virginia, it's just a stone's throw to Maryland and the D.C. area."
One aspect that Virginia Tech uses as a selling point is the continuity of its staff. Beamer's assistants have been at Virginia Tech for an average of 11 years. Billy Hite, a DeMatha High graduate who recruits the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, has been at Virginia Tech since 1978. The Hokies have had plenty of success under Beamer, playing in bowl games in 12 consecutive years.
"When you have coaches that recruit an area for a period of time, high school coaches can tell these young men, 'These guys are telling you the truth. They're not just giving you the recruiting pitch,' " Cavanaugh said.
Maryland also has had coaching stability, with only two departures from Friedgen's original coaching staff. But those departures were significant, with the Terrapins changing recruiting coordinators twice in the three years. Mike Locksley, retained by Friedgen from Ron Vanderlinden's staff, went to Florida and now is the offensive coordinator at Illinois, where he continues to recruit the Washington area. James Franklin succeeded Locksley but left this past offseason to join the Green Bay Packers' coaching staff.
"You can't lose two guys like those guys," said Jeremy Crabtree, a national recruiting analyst for rivals.com. "Franklin and Locksley were two of the best guys in the business. Not just locally, but in the country. They're virtually irreplaceable. There are not just dynamic recruiters, but also for their organizational skills."
This year's senior class is considered one of the best ever in the Washington area, with a dozen nationally recruited prospects. With so many good players, some more distant schools -- including some that seldom recruit here -- are entering the fray. Quince Orchard linebacker Bani Gbadyu has committed to Louisiana State. Schools such as Oklahoma and Nebraska are in the mix for players such as McDonough defensive back A.J. Wallace and Forestville offensive lineman Antonio Logan-El, who once pledged to Maryland but since has said he wants to explore his options before making a decision.
"When I first came in, I said I wanted to recruit area kids and people didn't think we could win with area kids," Friedgen said. "Now we not only have Virginia and Virginia Tech [recruiting the Baltimore-Washington corridor], we have Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State and Southern Cal in here. It's become a lot harder from that standpoint."