Fate found the future Maryland cornerback inside the current Maryland football building, delivered by a handshake, an introduction and the implicit recognition of a shared past. Daniel Ezeagwu, a senior at Colonial Forge High School in Virginia, was visiting College Park and thinking about committing to the Terrapins. At first, he wasn’t feeling it. Nothing in particular, just didn’t receive the proper vibes. Then he met the other recruit on campus this weekend and everything changed.
“It was real crazy,” Ezeagwu said Sunday night. “We were saying it’s destiny. This is destiny. It’s real crazy.”
At dinner Saturday, Ezeagwu was introduced to Nnamdi Egbuaba, a linebacker from St. Frances in Baltimore. Both were weighing scholarship offers from Maryland, which several years ago seemed beyond their wildest imaginations. Egbuaba noticed Ezeagwu’s name tag. He recognized the language.
“Are you Nigerian?” he asked. “Are your parents from there?”
Yes, Ezeagwu replied. He had never visited the land of his ancestors and didn’t speak the dialect, but his family hailed from Nigeria. Egbuaba, on the other hand, had arrived in the United States just more than one year prior, brought by a placement program that intended to ship basketball players westward across the Atlantic Ocean and into America.
There were only so many spots open for Nigerian immigrants hoping to play college basketball in the area, though, so Ricardo Dickerson, a former Maryland running back, had the idea of converting those guys into football players. It took nearly a year to get permission from the St. Frances archdiocese and obtain the I-20 student visa, but finally Egbuaba arrived in the United States, ready to try a new sport for the first organized time.
At St. Frances he played under Messay Hailemariam, who had done this before. Himself of Ethiopian descent, Hailemariam had helped develop Sunny Odogwu, also a Nigerian, into an eventual offensive lineman for the Miami Hurricanes. He knew the challenges facing immigrants but also had enough experience to serve as a big brother figure to Egbuaba. After all, Hailemariam had walked onto the Maryland football team in the early 1990s.
The first season was a transition period, but Egbuaba worked himself onto the first string anyway. Few players had a better attitude and maybe none worked as hard. This season, after St. Frances changed conferences and began facing powerhouses like Calvert Hall and Gilman, Egbuaba finished with 19 sacks, his coach said.
“He came to this country with an opportunity, no idea when it would come to fruition, hoping to make himself a relevant person in terms of football,” Hailemariam said. “From the first day he set foot in the country, he’s been nothing but a model.”
Soon, college recruiters took notice of the raw-but-tireless linebacker who was shredding some of the area’s best offensive linemen and had gained former Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington as a mentor. That’s how Egbuaba found himself in College Park this weekend, Hailemariam in tow, evaluating the scholarship offer and the prospect of spending a half-decade at this school. Hailemariam passed along advice but tried to let Egbuaba make the decision himself.
Ezeagwu, too, had a decision to make. He had always thought about playing college football with his brother David, but the varying interest in the twins was making that increasingly difficult to make happen. James Madison, which plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level and coincidentally will open against Maryland next season, had offered both. But Daniel also had interest from the Terps and Towson. David, a linebacker, did not.
At 6 feet 2 inches and 200 pounds, Ezeagwu projected to college as a boundary cornerback, typically reserved for the bigger of the two starting cornerbacks and previously manned by Dexter McDougle, a fellow resident of Stafford, Va. With five-star Jalen Tabor already spurning Maryland to enroll early at Florida, the Terps pitched Ezeagwu on the prospect of contributing immediately. He had developed a reputation for being a ballhawk and, besides, Maryland hadn’t recruited well in Virginia under Coach Randy Edsall. To yank one away from the Cavaliers would be big.
Soon, Ezeagwu was touring campus, hearing everything he wanted to hear. He liked the academic pathway laid out, from summer school to graduation. He attended Saturday’s men’s basketball game against Pittsburgh and took notice of the near-sellout crowd. Then he went into the locker room, spoke to the weight coach and saw the Under Armour uniforms.
“That sealed the deal,” Ezeagwu said.
Sometime Saturday night after the basketball game, Egbuaba arrived at the conclusion that he wanted to commit and began needling Ezeagwu to do the same. Sunday morning, Ezeagwu went to meet with Edsall at Gossett Team House and heard Egbuaba had followed through on his word.
The time felt right and the chance encounter with a fellow Nigerian at such a crucial moment felt kismet, so Ezeagwu offered his commitment as well. Maryland also offered David the option of taking a preferred walk-on spot or attending prep school to possibly earn a scholarship next season, Daniel said, but he was prepared to branch out on his own either way.
“I’m not going to lie, it was a big relief,” Daniel Ezeagwu said. “All that weight off my shoulders, in a way. No more all these coaches calling me. I’m relieved. It’s a good fit. I made a good choice.”
One item of business was left on the docket. The connections and coincidences had been rolling through all weekend. Neither had been given rankings by the major national recruiting services, both liked the same type of girls and, in the coup de grace, learned Egbuaba was raised in the same village as Ezeagwu’s uncle.
So the new friends and future Terps needed to make sure they could be roommates too.
“Coach told me, ‘If you and Nnamdi want to room together, I can make that happen,’ ” Ezeagwu recalled, and then destiny became real crazy.