The about-face left Gater, as well as other Maryland commits and recruits, with more questions than answers.
“Yeah, you just didn’t know what was happening,” Gater said. “I was finding out on social media.”
College coaches getting fired and new ones getting hired is common each season, but what has happened at Maryland over the past few months — even the past 48 hours — has disrupted the recruiting process and put Maryland’s local recruits and commits in flux.
As a result, the increasingly successful pipeline the Maryland program has built with local recruits has been impacted negatively, and some in the area question whether it can get back on track.
“I think there are going to be questions on how this whole situation is handled, and it is hard to overcome in the short run,” Good Counsel Coach Andy Stefanelli said. “It is not a good look for the school and hopefully they can rectify things there, but until then, it’s going to have an impact on local recruiting and there are no two ways about it.”
Stefanelli, who has watched several Good Counsel football players play for Maryland over the past decade, said one of his biggest issues was the “lack of leadership and direction” from the university. Durkin had been on administrative leave since Aug. 10, amid separate investigations into the circumstances that led to the June death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair and into the culture of the football program following media reports alleging abuse and bullying by staff members.
After Wednesday’s decision to fire Durkin, the biggest question among local high school coaches was: What can they tell players about the future of Maryland football?
“I want to see the situation rectified, and it needs to be rectified soon before I can feel good about feeling good about recommending kids to go there,” Stefanelli said.
Eleanor Roosevelt Coach Tom Green, who has sent seven players in the past 11 years to Maryland, said he noticed less of a Maryland presence during the summer and in-season. Previously, under Durkin’s staff, Green has had multiple face-to-face meetings with Durkin about his players, as well as visits from defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim. This year, as Stefanelli described it, Maryland’s recruiting presence has been “flying under the radar.”
“Under Durkin’s tenure, they did a great job recruiting our players and area players,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. "Us obviously being two miles down the road, we want them to be successful so they can continue to recruit our guys. I know kids in the area like the University of Maryland. It was a clearly unfortunate situation. Only time will tell what comes of it.”
Brooks, who has seen eight players in the past three years sign with Maryland, said DeMatha’s staff still communicates frequently with Maryland and the Terps staff has shown continued interest in the players in Hyattsville. Stefanelli said the biggest impact might not affect players to whom Maryland is the only the Power Five school offering a scholarship but rather the more “high impact” players with multiple offers from big college programs.
“I would like them to look [at Eleanor Roosevelt players] a little bit more,” Green said. “But right now I know there is so much going on up there right now and I am just going to be patient and I know they are going through a lot and the coaches up there. We are going to respect that.”
Gater’s mother, Mia Young, said her son talked to her Thursday morning about the possibility of decommitting from Maryland, but Gater confirmed he was still verbally committed Thursday afternoon. Gater planned on calling Abdul-Rahim, his primary recruiter, to ask how the atmosphere was at Maryland. Abdul-Rahim, a District native, was a successful local high school coach at Friendship Collegiate.
“At this point, decommitments will happen quicker if there are changes in the assistant coaching ranks, especially with guys like Abdul-Rahim and if they end up at other schools or appear to be ending up at other schools,” said Adam Friedman, Rivals.com’s Mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst. "As position coaches end up leaving, you will start to see decommitments at those positions and from their recruiting regions so that is something to watch out for.”
Gater said he would have no problem playing under interim coach Matt Canada, who has led the team to a 5-3 record entering Saturday’s game. But if Abdul-Rahim were to leave, Gater would be less certain. Canada will remain the interim coach through the end of the season, but any plans beyond that have not been revealed.
“Right now, I’m with what is best for the team,” Gater said.
Some stakeholders have speculated that Maryland may target Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley as its next head coach; Locksley, a D.C. native who is considered one of the Washington’s area’s most powerful recruiters, served two stints at Maryland, including as interim coach for six games in 2015 after Randy Edsall was fired at midseason.
“Regardless of what they should have done, the decision has now been made, and they should have a plan for where they are heading, and until that happens it is very difficult to recruit for Maryland,” Stefanelli said. "It’s going to be very difficult to recruit because are you recruiting for Coach Canada or for the next guy that no one knows? It is not a good situation if you are a current coach trying to recruit.”
Maryland has 10 hard commitments for the Class of 2019, including Gater, three players from Maryland and three from Virginia. Two Maryland players, running back Jordan Houston and tight end Trey Rucker, are now playing at Flint Hill in Oakton, Va. Houston and Rucker went on a visit to Maryland on Sept. 22, when the Terrapins played Minnesota.
Last season, Durkin hauled in the 28th-ranked recruiting class in the country with 16 recruits from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. In 2017, the Terrapins had the 18th-ranked recruiting class in the nation with 17 players from the local jurisdictions.
When reached by text message after the initial news of Durkin being reinstated Tuesday, Houston replied, “It’s great.” He took to Twitter and again supported the decision from the board of regents, but could not be reached to comment after Wednesday’s reversal.
Stefanelli said the longer the decision was being drawn out, the more damage has occurred. However, Stefanelli believes there is still a chance for Maryland to salvage the Class of 2019 and move forward with future classes. This can be done by Maryland voicing a clear direction of where it is headed, but until then, everyone remains in a “holding pattern.”
“You really don’t have a choice,” Green said. “You sit back and wait.”
Roman Stubbs contributed to this report.
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