"The prep school helped out a lot as far as maturity,"… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
COLLEGE PARK — — David Mackall doesn't know where he would be right now had he stayed at Woodlawn High past his sophomore year. Mackall believes there's a good chance his football career would have been derailed by bad grades and bad decisions.
Now a freshman at the University of Maryland, Mackall looks back with a maturity that belies the fact that he graduated from high school less than a year ago. It was his decision to transfer to Edmondson for his junior year that ultimately led to Mackall's becoming a Terrapin.
"I learned so much from my mistakes early, instead of making them now," Mackall said Saturday after a morning practice. "A lot of my friends and the people surrounding me are making the mistakes I made in my early years. They're making them now.
"By me making the mistakes then, it's helped me out in the long run. I don't want to be in the position I was in in high school. It made me sick to my stomach to know how bad I was doing. ... The way it was looking [going into] my junior year, a scholarship was not even going to be in the question."
Even after graduating from Edmondson, Mackall still needed a semester in prep school to become academically eligible under NCAA guidelines. Mackall spent last fall at Fork Union Military Academy in rural Bremo Bluff, Va. That's where Mackall gained both the necessary ACT score for college eligibility and a new-found appreciation for being a Terp - on and off the field.
"I had to cut my hair," Mackall recalled with a smile. "We spent more time with the military stuff than the football. Football was just two hours out of the day. The rest of the day was marching, taking orders, cleaning up. Our mornings started at 6. We had to be dressed by 6:05. We went to school from 8 until 2. We had mandatory study hall every night."
The adjustment from Baltimore wasn't easy.
"When I first started, I wanted to go home. I never missed home so much," said Mackall, who is the youngest of six siblings and has five older sisters. "The closer to the end it got, I appreciated it so much. Right now, I just feel like that step that I took at Fork Union was the best thing I ever did."
Mackall credits Fork Union coach John Shuman for helping in the transition to college. Aside from a two-hour mandatory study hall, Mackall said, Shuman didn't treat the big-time prospect any different from his other players.
"The prep school helped out a lot as far as maturity, not just football, but as far as school and just dealing with the tough stuff and getting through it," Mackall said. "The thing that I think prep school helped me the most was studying. ... The whole football part, [Shuman] showed me how the [Division I] level is going to be."
Said Shuman, "What we taught him to do was come to meetings on time, to work hard, to practice hard. You could see him maturing a little bit in September. And then from October on, he was just a beast. He saw some positive results in the classroom and that sort of ignited him. He just took the defense by the neck and said, 'This is what we're going to do.' "
By the time Mackall was scheduled to return to Maryland, Shuman said he was among the best who had ever played for him in his 23 seasons as head coach and 30 years at the school. That's saying a lot, considering the hundreds of players who have gone from Fork Union to big-time college programs and some, like former Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who have made the NFL.
"If I created a wall of fame, David would be in the Top 10," Shuman said.
One of four players to arrive on the Maryland campus a semester early - along with Fork Union teammate and fellow linebacker Lorne Goree of Springdale, as well as linebacker Javarie Johnson of Dunbar High in Washington and quarterback Devin Burns of Columbus, Ga. - Mackall has the best chance of any in the group to get onto the field this fall as a true freshman.
"It's a little bit easier for the guys who go to prep school. They're a little bit more mature," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Kids coming in right out of high school [for spring practice], in some ways it's an easier transition than coming in in the fall. You don't have as much time taken up by football. Coming in on the academic side is a big jump. They also have to make their own decisions socially."
Without prompting, Friedgen said of Mackall, "I think he's gonna be a player."
Dante Jones, who coached Mackall at Edmondson, said of his former star: "He's a throwback kind of kid in the way he approaches the game. He approaches the game in a very physical manner." Jones said the structure of the Edmondson football team - including a "Play It Smart" after-school study program - helped Mackall flourish.
"It was more like a college atmosphere," Jones said.