COLLEGE PARK — They left Washington as friendly rivals, respecting each other's talents and having formed a bond from summer camps and scouting combines. They reunited as teammates briefly, first at the University of New Mexico and later at a junior college In Iowa.
They are now back together, "like brothers" they say, hoping to help revive a Maryland football team that has won just six games in Randy Edsall's first two seasons. Each could play a significant role under offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, the coach and confidante who has figured in their lives for years.
When wide receiver Deon Long and quarterback Ricardo Young take the field together at Byrd Stadium on Saturday for the start of spring practice, it will mark the end of what has been a long and sometimes exhausting journey for both.
"It was definitely a long road, for me and Deon, we actually had the same kind of path so to speak," Young said this week.
After finishing his career at Dunbar High in Washington in 2009 as a three-star prospect, Long attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia for a few months, went to West Virginia University for spring practice in 2010, then New Mexico and Iowa Western Community College for a season each.
Young went from H.D. Woodson High in Washington, where he was the city's Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in 2010 (as well as the school's valedictorian), to Virginia Tech for a year. He left there for New Mexico and then went to Iowa Western but never played in a game at either school before transferring to Maryland last year.
Both left New Mexico after Locksley was fired as the Lobos' head coach in the fall of 2011. After Young decided to become a Terp this past summer, Long said he told his closest friend, "Wherever you're going, I'm going."
Terps recruited both
Both had thought about playing for Maryland out of high school. Young chose the Hokies, confident he could do the same things Tyrod Taylor, now the Ravens backup quarterback, had accomplished in Blacksburg. Long saw his future as a Mountaineer, playing alongside slot receiver Tavon Austin, the former Baltimore Dunbar star now considered a potential first-round draft pick.
"Maryland was one of my first offers, actually it was one of my top choices," Young said. "As far as the opportunity to get back and get here on this level, I'm just blessed. ... Every day I take the time to thank the Lord that I got this opportunity. Now that I get to showcase my talents, I'm not going to disappoint."
Maryland had offered Long, too, when he was in high school, but he said the offer came late in the recruiting process.
"I felt like that was sort of disrespectful for me, being the player and having the talent that I have that they would offer a player from New Jersey or Pennsylvania ahead of me, and I'm right down the street," Long said on national signing day this February. "I would have come here, I would have liked to, but that was their fault."
Looking back, Long said his time at Hargrave Military Academy was well-spent.
"I think prep school was the start of it. That's where all my discipline really came from," he said. "Getting up at 5 in morning, cleaning this and cleaning that, taking orders from guys who were much older and higher up in the ranks. I think my journey made me a better player. It made me stronger, got me bigger and it kept me hungry."
Figuring in the offense
Long is expected to step in at wide receiver, to show the NFL-caliber speed and great hands that helped make him a player many considered the top junior college prospect in the country last year. Long should be a dangerous complement to a teammate he calls "the Young Great One" — Stefon Diggs, who as a freshman was considered one of the most electrifying players in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Young is expected to compete with redshirt senior C.J.Brown for the starting quarterback job going into the 2013 season. Though two inches smaller and 20 to 30 pounds lighter than the 6-3, 210-pound Brown, Young is considered a better passer. He might even be a step or two faster than Brown, who will participate on a limited basis in spring practice after undergoing knee surgery following a preseason ACL tear last year.
"I just want to use this spring to make my team a lot better. We've got a lot of young receivers, a lot of good receivers," said Young, who had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules. "I want to use the spring to really take the time to get them really acquainted, to use the time to get myself back acquainted. I feel like I'm a veteran now."
Not only is Young familiar with Long. He has played with tight end Daniel Adams, who also tranferred from New Mexico, and he has known Diggs since they played together for three years between ages 8 and 10 on the White Oak Warriors in Pop Warner football. They have renewed their relationship over the past year.