Jordan Houston took out his phone, pulled up a group chat with other Maryland football commits Friday evening, clicked on an attached ESPN link and began reading.
It was then the three-star senior running back out of Flint Hill School in Oakton, Va., first read the lengthy report outlining a toxic culture in the Maryland football program that included verbal abuse and widespread bullying from staff members in the school’s athletic department. The ESPN report came in the aftermath of the death of freshman offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who suffered heatstroke during a team workout in late May and died two weeks later.
Houston, who committed to the program July 30, was unfazed. Even after the school placed Maryland Coach DJ Durkin and other members of the athletic staff on administrative leave, Houston stood “100 percent committed” to the Terps for the class of 2019.
“We are just trying to go in our home state and help rebuild, and now that this is happening this is even more of a reason of why Maryland needs us,” Houston said Saturday. “So now all this happening, I know a lot of kids won’t want to choose Maryland, but this is even more of a reason why we should go there and why they need us to help rebuild.”
While Houston has steady confidence in the program, the reports of an unhealthy Maryland football program have its increasing recruiting momentum in jeopardy. Maryland has hauled in top 20 recruiting classes the past two seasons.
As of Sunday afternoon, one Maryland commit, three-star offensive lineman Parker Moorer, decommitted from the program following the weekend’s news. Moorer is a rising senior from North Carolina and committed to the Terps on April 23. The 2019 class now has nine members.
A person with knowledge of Maryland’s recruiting operations said Sunday that the staff has been in touch with area high school coaches and prospects committed to the program in the wake of Durkin’s leave, but that the focus is on current players on the roster.
“There’s really no good to come out of the recruiting movement,” said Adam Friedman, Rivals.com’s Mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst. “Looking at the local area, they made huge strides. [But] as all this fallout continues to come out after Jordan McNair’s death, it seems the recruiting momentum is put on hold. It seems like everything with coaches with roots in the area, it seems like everything is put on hold until everything comes out here.”
Friedman said Maryland commits in the class of 2019 should have all their options back on the table and at least be fielding more calls from college coaches in the months to come. For Maryland, “there is going to be a process in rebuilding that confidence,” Friedman said.
Four-star DeMatha junior defensive back Nick Cross, whom Maryland offered in May of 2017 , said his family plans to sit down together in the next couple of weeks to evaluate and make a decision about how it will affect his recruitment moving forward. Maryland was Cross’s third collegiate offer, and he now holds offers from more than 35 high-major programs.
Before becoming the head coach at Bishop McNamara in 2017, Keita Malloy had numerous coaching stops at the high school and college levels. The recruiting process is extensive and relationship-oriented, he said, so whether Maryland’s recruiting efforts are negatively affected by these reports will depend on if the coaching staff remains intact.
“The No. 1 quickest factor [that would cause a recruit to decommit from a school] is if they change coaching staffs,” Malloy said.
Northwest Coach Mike Neubeiser said the reports would be “forgotten in a few months” if Durkin stays.
“I think what it is going to come down to more than anything is their success on the field for recruits,” Neubeiser said. “Kids, they want to go to a program where they have a chance to win.”
Good Counsel Coach Andy Stefanelli, whose son Andrew played at Maryland, said he sees the death of McNair as an unfortunate incident rather than something that can speak to larger issues in the program. Good Counsel has three players on Maryland’s 2018 roster, and Stefanelli said he has never heard anything negative about the staff.
Houston, the No. 7 all-purpose running back in the Class of 2019 according to 247Sports, said staying local is a key part in his ongoing decision. He chose Maryland over Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Houston’s Flint Hill teammate Trey Rucker, a three-star safety, is also committed to the Terps for 2019.
“I know Durkin, and Durkin is a good guy, and I honestly don’t think any of this is his fault,” Houston said. “I personally know a lot of the kids on the team, and I have known them since I was 7 years old, and obviously I want to ask them if this stuff is true, and they wouldn’t lie to me.
“Ever since they have been there they haven’t experienced anything that bad. It is college football. They are going to push you, you know? It is never going to be easy.”
Quince Orchard Coach John Kelley said Durkin has been great to him and his program, with two of Kelley’s former players on Maryland’s roster. Kelley said“time will tell” on the impact for recruits, but past actions from the program have been positive.
“We have had a couple guys there, and then the story came out. They have never said anything to me about things like that happening,” Kelley said. “That was the first I’ve heard of it when the article came out.”
Roman Stubbs contributed to this report.