Suddenly, ears perking up when Terps recruiters call

October 26, 2001|By Mike Preston

THE LIFELINE of any major-college football program is recruiting, and the University of Maryland's has become vibrant again.

Doors that were once slammed in the Terps' faces have opened. Instead of being on the second-tier level, Maryland again is becoming a serious player in the recruiting game with other major-college powers.

That happens when you're unbeaten in seven games, ranked No. 10 nationally and in serious consideration for a major bowl. Maryland recruiters can't make household visits until December, but the program is already reaping the benefits of a successful season.

"It's been kind of nice being able to see this through," said Michael Locksley, the Terps' running backs coach and recruiting coordinator since 1997.

"It's a maturation process. I thought we would have some success this season because we had some starters who had been in the program for two or three years. We had, like, 16 or 17 starters returning.

"But did I think that we would be at this point, 7-0, with this kind of success? I didn't imagine that. People [recruits and schools] that wouldn't give us the time of day are now allowing us in. Recruits are calling us."

It's amazing what a few wins will do. The Terps will get into the households of more blue-chip players now, something this program hasn't been able to do on a regular basis since the mid-1980s, the last time Maryland was a national power.

And that's why you have to be excited about the program. The potential is unlimited, especially if fully supported by the alumni and faculty. Maryland has always been an attractive school because of its location between two major metropolitan areas, its facilities, its conference affiliation and its major media markets.

But the Terps haven't had a lot of winning records and bowl appearance since coach Bobby Ross left College Park in 1986. This season, though, the dynamics have changed under first-year coach Ralph Friedgen. A win over Florida State and a major bowl bid would be huge for a program that has already taken some big steps.

A year ago, Maryland had only eight oral commitments from recruits. The Terps have 11 now, including four blue-chippers -- receiver Danny Melendez of Harrisburgh, Pa., defensive lineman David Quaintance of Philadelphia, Florida running back John Paul Humber and outside linebacker Shawne Merriman of Upper Marlboro.

Maryland can finally change that decade-old stale rap it's been using in trying to lure recruits. Locksley knows it well. He's probably put it to music.

A one and a two and a three ...

"It would go something like this where I would ask them if they knew some of the previous running backs at Michigan, and they would say Tim Biakabutuka or Tyrone Wheatley," said Locksley.

"I asked them if they wanted to become just another name at Michigan or if they wanted to make a big-time name for themselves at Maryland.

"Our selling point was that we were building something, and they could become part of putting Maryland on the map," he said.

Big deal. That wouldn't get me to sign my kid's life away on a dotted line. Joe Krivak used the same line. So did Mark Duffner and Ron Vanderlinden.

The tune has changed.

"We can tell them that if they come in they will compete for an Atlantic Coast Conference or possibly the national championship," said Locksley. "It makes recruiting a lot easier. You can go into a player's house and they know who you are, where you are and who's the coach. It's better than going in 2-9."

The Terps have credibility now. They aren't on the level of the Floridas, Florida States and Nebraskas, but that might come in time if they keep winning. At least the Terps can now win battles in their own backyard.

Penn State is awful. Virginia, Pittsburgh and West Virginia are down, too. Vanderlinden didn't win many games at Maryland, but he made inroads into recruiting in Maryland, Virginia and D.C., the base areas for the Terps. Friedgen and Locksley can take it further.

In 1997, only 23 Maryland players were from these areas, compared to 34 in 1998, 39 in 1999, 46 two years ago and currently 49.

The plan is for Maryland to get most of the top in-state players, then sprinkle in blue-chip or role players from such recruiting hotbeds as Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio and Florida. One position that won't be a problem is quarterback.

The Terps should be able to sign a nationally recruited player at the position because of Friedgen's history with quarterbacks and his multiple-formation offense, which includes a lot of pro-style looks.

"Peer pressure plays an important part in recruiting," said Locksley. "In this day and age, a lot of players go to a certain school because their friends think it's the cool place to go. In the past, if a player walked in and told his friends that he chose Maryland over Penn State, they would say, `What, are you crazy?' So far, it's been cool to see the verbal commitments to Maryland."

It should only get better. With each victory, ACC title and major-bowl appearance, the recruiting game gets easier.

"This is what we'd planned," said Locksley, who also worked under Vanderlinden. "We had a lot of close games under Vandy, but we didn't get it done. We're getting it done under Ralph. He changed the mind-set around here. He made us tougher as players and coaches. We've grown."

Not just on the field, but on the recruiting trail.

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