DJ Durkin had never seen a National Signing Day run so smoothly until Wednesday morning, which marked the beginning of college football's inaugural early signing period and felt different to the Maryland head coach in more ways than one. He wore a slight grin as he walked from his office at Gossett Team House and into the "war room," where assistants huddled around a massive conference table with their laptops.
"What do we got?" Durkin asked as he entered the room. "TJ? Jaelyn?"
An assistant nodded that both were in the process of signing their national letters-of intent.
"Oh yes!" Durkin said, looking calm and relaxed, knowing that those two offensive line prospects — TJ Bradley and Jaelyn Duncan — wouldn't need long to finish the process. By that point, signing day wasn't two hours old and Maryland had already sealed the deal with 20 of the 22 players it would sign Wednesday.
How? Through a program called Teamworks, a communications and operations platform that is becoming an increasingly powerful tool in major college football. Nearly 100 programs in the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision use the software as a communication system during the season — including Maryland, which uses the platform to centralize scheduling with all of its players and coaches.
But Durkin and his staff took it one step further Wednesday, using the system to streamline a process that has typically been more chaotic. Instead of faxing and emailing, Teamworks allowed the staff to email a private link with the required documents to each of its prospects, who then could simply sign on their mobile devices and forward the papers to their parent or guardian. Within minutes, the documents were back to Maryland's staff and being reviewed by the program's director of recruiting operations, David Wilczewski, as well as Cody Gambler, the assistant athletic director for compliance, who ensures that all of the signatures and date lines (those using the software can also type in numbers onto the documents) were correct before approval.
"It takes a lot of uncertainty out of using the fax machine. For me and Cody, we're going to adapt to what we need to do. If someone has a specific need, we're going to meet it," said Wilczewski, who sat at the head of the table Wednesday and often sounded like a tetchy customer service rep, walking some recruits' parents through the process. "This has really revolutionized how we conduct business with our students, staff and administrators."
Through Durkin's first two years at Maryland, this process wasn't so simple. Just last year, when Maryland signed a mammoth 28-player class, the staff was scrambling to manage all of the moving parts. The coaches would send documents by either PDF attachments to emails or through paper form via FedEx; the players would then have to either scan and email back four different PDFs or take an image of their national letter-of-intent and text it back to Durkin or an assistant. The coaches would forward that to Wilczewski, who would then forward it to compliance. By the time the graphics design and social media teams were pushing the announcements out into the world, an exhaustive chain of messaging had taken place and the staff was behind with all of the paperwork.
"You couldn't get to them fast enough," Wilczewski said.
Of Maryland's 22 signees Wednesday, 20 inked their letters-of-intent through the documents sent by Wilczewski through Teamworks. It began with the most highly touted recruit in the class, DeMatha offensive lineman Austin Fontaine, who opened the email at 7:01 a.m. and had signed and delivered the documents back to Wilczewski by 7:06. If this were a year ago, he may have had to print those documents out and eventually scan or take screen shots to send back to the Maryland football offices. It would have taken more than five minutes. Instead, his signing had become official on Twitter by 7:18.
From 7:06 to 8:11 a.m., Maryland signed 20 players.
"To be honest with you, this is the first signing day done electronically. I don't know anywhere else in the country that has done that before. To my knowledge they haven't. It was sent to their phone electronically, they sign with their fingers and send it back," Durkin said. "Like most things, it's become incredibly real-time. It used to be everyone standing by the fax machines."
There were other signs of tech advances in the room Wednesday morning; Durkin and his staff lined the conference table and worked their phones. Wilczewski said that FaceTime is becoming increasingly important on the recruiting trail, and the staff has gone to lengths to establish a strong social media presence. Durkin also brought on a graphic design coordinator, Cody James, early in his tenure to flourish on days like Wednesday, when each signee received an illustration on Twitter.
Each part of the process is crucial, but logistically, Maryland has never accomplished what it did Wednesday.
"TJ Bradley is good," Gambler said at one point, clearing an offensive lineman who is expected to play an important role in the years to come. A couple of minutes later, Duncan was cleared, too. Each player had his own Maryland-designed magnet go up on the whiteboard after they had signed, and late in the process, Durkin stood alone and studied the names of his new players. He eventually left the room. Wilczewski checked the time near the end of the process.
"It's 8:25," he said, "and we're done."