Two plays and less than a minute into Maryland’s game against Ohio State in November, running back Anthony McFarland sprinted 81 yards down the left sideline and into the end zone. The opening touchdown created a burst of energy in the Terrapins’ favor, but maybe some credited the quick success to a defensive lapse.
Two Maryland offensive plays later, McFarland did it again, this time a 75-yard touchdown run. By then, the collective attention of college football fans started to turn toward College Park, where a Maryland program struggling to become bowl eligible seemed poised to knock off a national power. With that realization, McFarland’s name circulated on social media, usually accompanied by his outlandish final stats that day: 298 rushing yards, 14.2 per carry.
Those moments, even though Maryland lost in overtime, proved a point that McFarland often emphasizes and one he tells local recruits.
“You don’t have to go far,” said McFarland, who also considered scholarship offers from Alabama, Miami and Georgia. “You don’t have to go to a big-time school to accomplish what you want to accomplish.”
As Maryland first-year coach Michael Locksley works to bring the best D.C.-area recruits to College Park, McFarland is an example of what’s possible — especially to the players at DeMatha Catholic, the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference powerhouse that will have 13 players on Maryland’s roster this fall. The two-mile pipeline from Hyattsville to College Park has never been stronger.
Locksley hired Elijah Brooks, DeMatha’s head coach for the past eight years, to coach Maryland’s running backs. It is Brooks’s first college coaching job. His position group includes a pair of DeMatha grads: McFarland, who ran for more than 1,000 yards as a redshirt freshman last year, and Lorenzo Harrison III, a rising fourth-year junior who’s back at practice after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
“I definitely believe that the stars aligned with this opportunity,” Brooks said. “Not many guys get an opportunity to move two miles down the road and coach some of their former players.”
The college coach version of Brooks isn’t too different from who he was as DeMatha’s coach, “which is a good thing,” McFarland said. “He’s always going to be hard on you coaching. Whenever you’re doing good, he’s going to tell you, and whenever you’re slouching, he’s going to get on you. That’s the best thing about good coaches.”
Before the fall, four-star defensive back Nick Cross and walk-on quarterback Eric Najarian will become the latest DeMatha additions to Maryland’s team, joining key contributors such as defensive back Tino Ellis, wide receiver DJ Turner and offensive linemen Marcus Minor and Terrance Davis. Jordan White, a lineman in the 2020 recruiting class, has committed to Maryland, indicating this steady stream of Stags-turned-Terps will continue.
But in the few years before DJ Durkin became the coach at Maryland, this wasn’t the case. During Randy Edsall’s tenure with the Terps, Maryland never had more than two DeMatha players on its roster.
Harrison’s father, Lorenzo Jr., credits Locksley, the Terps’ offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2015, for helping start this trend. Locksley recruited Harrison, who committed to the Terps as a junior in high school, before he headed to Alabama in 2016. Harrison’s father said he talked to other parents about Maryland, and his son helped recruit other teammates.
Four others came with Harrison in that class: Davis, Ellis, Turner and walk-on defensive lineman Oluwaseun Oluwatimi. Wide receiver Chris Jones, another DeMatha graduate, also joined the team that year after attending junior college. With that, the recent DeMatha surge began. The 2017 team included eight DeMatha players, and the 2018 team had 10. And the players at Maryland now want to make sure the trend continues.
“I know a lot of people, once they get to college, they feel like they have nothing to do with high school; they don’t have to recruit,” McFarland said. “But we’re kind of different. We want to recruit these guys. We want to make them feel like we want them to be here.”
McFarland said he’s always checking in on the DeMatha players, reminding them through social media and texts, “Hey, join the pipeline, stay home.”
Brooks wants all local players, not just those from DeMatha, to play for Maryland. But the relationships he built while working at the high school probably will help Maryland maintain a foothold in that program.
“People that aren’t in the process or involved in the process on an everyday basis forget that these are still young men,” said DeMatha assistant coach Josh Wilson, who played defensive back for the Stags, at Maryland and in the NFL. “A lot of them are still trying to mature and figure out who they are, who they’re comfortable with and who to trust. Everybody doesn’t have the same great background, and when they develop a trust and comfort with anyone, they rely on it.”
That could shine through in the recruiting processes. High schoolers who played for Brooks will have a level of comfort with him. They also have former teammates who are living in the Terps’ program every day.
“The best recruiters are the kids because they’re going to tell each other exactly how it is,” said DeMatha’s Bill McGregor, the school’s longtime head coach who returned to the position after Brooks accepted the Maryland job.
McGregor said the number of DeMatha players at Maryland has gone in waves — never this many but plenty of others.
Wilson relied on his relationship with Dennard Wilson, a defensive back at DeMatha and then Maryland, who was a few years older. Cross, the incoming defensive back from DeMatha, said he heard about the experience Josh Wilson had at Maryland. Wilson told Cross it prepared him for life. And that’s how this cycle continues.
“That’s half the battle,” Brooks said of how the 2016 group of DeMatha players at Maryland launched this trend. “You get one and they have a great experience, it makes it easier to come back and get other guys.”
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