Maryland football Coach Randy Edsall strode into the auditorium inside Gossett Team House late Tuesday afternoon wearing a crisp suit and red tie with a sly smile on his face. He sat down and leaned into the microphone, ready to discuss the latest recruiting class for his football team, and began by asking the sparse crowd of reporters: “How we doing? I know I’m doing good.”
The mood was justified. Earlier that day, 16 previously committed recruits had, as expected, signed and faxed their national letters-of-intent to Maryland. And the only drama left was gone by 10:45 a.m. Then, with the coaching staff crowded into a meeting room and watching a cable TV broadcast projected onto a screen, offensive lineman Damian Prince, a five-star recruit, announced he, too, would join the Terps, capping off their class of 2014 with the most important pledge.
Few college coaches dare express anything besides full-blown optimism on National Signing Day. Edsall was no different. He thanked his assistants for their hard work, celebrated a group that after Prince’s decision vaulted into the top 50 nationally according to 247sports and said Maryland got exactly what it wanted from this cycle.
With five offensive linemen taken, including junior college transfer Larry Mazyck and spring enrollee Derwin Gray — a class of 2013 commitment who took a prep year because of academic issues — the Terps added depth to arguably the weakest position since Edsall arrived three seasons ago. They took just one quarterback (Will Ulmer of St. John’s) and one wide receiver (Juwann Winfree from Dwight Morrow High School in New Jersey), both of whom were Maryland’s top options at those positions, and added one of the country’s best long snappers in Nate Adams, who projects to start immediately.
“We really had zeroed in on exactly how many we really wanted to get at each position and really got the guys that we wanted,” Edsall said.
There were the unheralded prospects, too, the types for whom Maryland must scrounge as it works toward relevancy on a national level. Baltimore linebacker Nnamdi Egbuaba has played organized football for just 13 months. Defensive lineman David Shaw hails from western Pennsylvania, where his family owns a worm farm. Three years ago, cornerback Josh Woods stood 5 feet 5, and several other players had only Football Championship Subdivision offers before the Terps showed interest.
“There’s a lot of fun in making sure you can find players nobody else knows about and the media doesn’t know about,” Edsall said. “We got some really good players that maybe the sites didn’t rate that high. But you put the film on, and they’re pretty good.”
Contrast that with the recruitment of Prince, the second five-star high schooler Maryland has signed under Edsall after wide receiver Stefon Diggs (Good Counsel). What unfolded Tuesday at Bishop McNamara High, beamed onto national cable television, was more than three years in the making. It began at a lineman camp his freshman year, when his sheer presence commanded so much attention that Edsall asked an assistant, “Man, who’s that?”
Since then, Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley had maintained contact with Prince. They talked regularly, like they would with any recruit, prized or not. He came to campus, many times unofficially.
“You’re selling the University of Maryland, you’re selling everything it has to offer, but at the end of the day it comes down to relationships, and when you start developing relationships at such a young age, trust plays a big factor into that,” Maryland recruiting coordinator John Dunn said.
Continuing to attract local talent remains a high priority for the Terps. Of the state’s top 20 players, according to 247sports, Maryland got just two, but they were the two best. Prince was ranked first, and Good Counsel’s Jesse Aniebonam, projected to play outside linebacker at Maryland, was second.
“There’s going to be some guys who want to get away,” Edsall said. “We can’t do anything about that. We’ll try to recruit them, but some guys will just want to get away. But what’s happening is now guys are understanding they can accomplish everything they want to accomplish here.”