COLLEGE PARK – After a 2-10 campaign in his first year as Maryland’s head football coach, Randy Edsall is attempting to revamp the landscape of the program.
With his job potentially on the line, Edsall replenished his coaching staff with a highly-touted recruiter with local ties and secured an incoming class with more than double the number of in-state players as last year.
“What we want to do is make more progress and get as many as the young men who we feel have the talent and have the academics, the work ethic and the character to stay at home,” he said in an interview.
More importantly, the Terps are becoming a more viable option for elite high school football players in the state of Maryland, according to local coaches.
“Those guys could have [gone] anywhere in the country, but they take a calculated risk staying home,” Quince Orchard High School coach Dave Mencarini said. “You made a name for yourself locally in the area, and now you have an opportunity to build a house on the foundation that you’ve laid.”
He added: “And they can be part of the turnaround.”
After being hired in January 2011 to replace Ralph Friedgen, Edsall compiled a staff without an in-state recruiter. The hire drew curious responses because Edsall’s only tie to the state was growing up as a Terps fan 90 minutes away in Glen Rock, Pa.
The team only signed five local-area players in 2011.
After one year as offensive coordinator, Maryland fired Gary Crowton. And with a void on the coaching staff, Edsall looked to a familiar face, Mike Locksley.
The former head coach at New Mexico and assistant under Friedgen, Locksley has been named a top-25 recruiter three times.
“He comes from the area. He’s lived some of the lives that these kids have lived. He’s familiar with the schools they attend and the challenges that kids go through when it comes to their city or living in Maryland in general,” Rivals.com national football analyst Mike Farrell said.
In his first stint at Maryland, Locksley helped lure local talent like LaMont Jordan, Shawne Merriman and Vernon Davis to College Park. He brought future pros like Derrick Harvey and Joe Haden to Gainesville, Fla. And he nabbed Vontae Davis and Arrelious Benn in Champaign, Ill.
After his arrival in December, he helped land two of the state’s top prospects, Our Lady of Good Counsel’s Wes Brown and Stefon Diggs.
“[Locksley] was a major force in getting those two to go to Maryland. I would consider him an all-star in the recruiting world,” Good Counsel coach and Maryland grad Bob Milloy said. “It was a huge positive move hiring him because he’s already proved his worth.”
Three Good Counsel players — Brown, Diggs and Mike Madaras — were a part the 2012 class. Since 2002, only four Good Counsel players have committed to Maryland.
More than just securing a commitment from Diggs, Locksley also convinced top-tier prospects Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby and Cyrus Jones to reconsider Maryland.
It’s a domino effect. If elite Maryland high school players like Diggs choose to stay home, others will, too.
“They know Maryland exists now. And you know they’re going to go over and watch Wes and Stefon play next year,” Milloy said. “It should have a significant impact.”
That’s the exact message Edsall hoped Diggs’ commitment would send.
Sometimes it takes a pioneer to start a movement, and for Maryland, Diggs’ success will go hand in hand with the program’s ability lure in-state talent.
“It sends a message to people that hey, you can be a five-star [recruit] and come here and accomplish all the things you want to accomplish,” Edsall said. “We hope that other people take notice because he’s well-respected amongst his peers.”
Milloy said his juniors — Kendall Fuller, Kirk Garner, Andre Levrone, Marcel Ngachie and Dorian O’Daniel — are considering the Terps. As is Marcus Newby, coached by Mencarini.
“What Maryland is doing – this class and in the future – they’re giving kids a reason to stay in their backyard and look no further than College Park before you have to go out the state,” Mencarini said.
There is a ceiling, however.
Because of the lackluster trophy case, the lack of program history, the facilities and athletic department budgets, Maryland cannot compete for elite prospects with the Floridas, the Ohio States and the Alabamas consistently, Farrell said.
“Barring winning a national championship and changing the entire structure of Maryland football, they’re just going to have to win as many battles as they can,” Farrell said.
And it works both ways.
Not every five-star athlete from Maryland is a fit for the Terrapins, Edsall said. But the program and the university have the capability to entice the right players.
“We’d like to get everybody that we determine is a fit here for Maryland. I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen, but that’s what we’re going to strive to do,” he said.
Changes from Within
Besides struggling with a two-win campaign in his first season, 24 players have sought transfers since he arrived. That’s equivalent to an entire recruiting class.
Some players who transferred have criticized Edsall’s no-nonsense approach to team discipline. In order to recruit top high school seniors, his rule-with-an-iron-first approach has to change, Farrell said.
“To recruit kids in this day and age, you have to love them up. You have to be a guy who’s willing to tell them what they want to hear,” Farrell said. “He’s changed a little bit in that respect. My way or the highway does not work in recruiting.”
The change is becoming more and more evident. And Milloy said he’s impressed with the Terps’ second-year coach.
“He’s a guy that you could call and he’ll call you back within a half an hour. He seems like a great guy to me,” he said.
Winning is the Cure
Rivals.com ranked Edsall’s incoming class the 35th-best in the nation.
And to continue to land elite recruits, the team has to win. Young players don’t want to play for a non-competitive team.
Another two-win season could cost Edsall his job, according to Rivals.com national football analyst Farrell.
“If they have another 2-10 year I don’t care how good of a recruiter you are, you’re not going to get kids to stay home — at least the good ones anyway,” Farrell said.
High school coaches said that a one year at the helm of the program is not a significant enough body of work to make rash judgments about Edsall.
Instead, Mencarini said players should simply look past the team’s record for now.
“You’re always going to go through transition any time there’s a change in staff, and Maryland went through a major overhaul. There’s always going to be attrition in players,” Mencarini said. “Although people get caught up in wins and losses in recruiting, you can’t look at just that.”
Milloy suggested the Terps need to win at least four or five games to keep players interested.
Edsall said he understands that winning is a crucial part of recruiting.
“You have to win, but you also have to be able to have the things here that they want academically, facilities. But winning cures a lot of things,” he said.