Timber Creek (Erial, N.J.) cornerback Kareem Ali remembers when then-area recruiter Keith Dudzinski from Maryland first streamed through his school to speak to his coaches about him his freshman year. He remembers attending a Maryland one-day camp later that summer, showing off enough potential to earn a closer look. Ali has been through College Park, Md., three times since then, and after his second camp last summer, Ali pulled in a UMD scholarship.
It's been almost a year since said offer was on the table, and on June 12, in a much anticipated announcement at his school, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound three-star pledged to Maryland over Pittsburgh, the other program in his "final two."
"You know who really wants you. When the defensive coordinator, the head coach, they contact you and reach out to you – that's how you know who wants you," said Ali, who plans to enroll early. "And Maryland, all along I knew they wanted me. Coach [Brian] Stewart, Coach [Randy] Edsall, Coach [John] Dunn, Coach [Keith] Dudzinski, they wanted me all along. They love me there."
He wouldn't have predicted he'd be spending his college career at Maryland back when the recruiting process first began, but Ali had an inkling that he hadn't seen the last of College Park. It may not have had the same cache as The Big House, the Swamp or Happy Valley, but there was something about U of MD that resonated.
The coaches, for one, did their diligence. The overtures came from not only Dudzinski and new area recruiter John Dunn, but also defensive backs coach Brian Stewart and head coach Randy Edsall. The latter, in particular, hit home with Ali and his father, who appreciated the academic-oriented message and the attention placed on the "student-athlete" label.
"Without education, where's life? Always education before football," he said. "I like how Coach Edsall puts education first and does everything for his players to make sure that comes first."
Stewart earned his share of praise as well. For the last two years Ali has worked with Maryland's defensive backs coach at the one-day camps, not to mention conversations via social media and at a junior day. Ali learned plenty from the former NFL coordinator, but also ate up the plan Stewart laid out for him. Using current Terps emerging star corner Will Likely as an example, Ali saw how, if he followed Stewart's instruction, he could earn early playing time, develop into an all-conference starter, and maybe, just maybe, have a chance to play on Sundays one day.
"Coach Stewart, he's a genius. He's a genius. Me and Coach Stewart are really, really tight," Ali said. "Just at the [June 7] camp, I learned some new stuff on the press, the off, new drills to work on at home. I already have learned a lot from him. He's a great teacher.
"Working with him was just like working with my dad," Ali continued. "He's a father figure on the field and he definitely knows what he's talking about. His experience, I trust him. And coach (Randy) Edsall has experience working with defensive backs, I trust that, too. I trust their experience and I like how they treat me, like one of their sons.
"And they're losing corners, and that lets me know I'd have an early chance to play there. That's big."
A few current Terps aided in the recruiting effort as well. While at a junior day, Ali was immediately impressed with star receiver Steffon Diggs, and how he chose Maryland despite having opportunities aplenty at college football's royalty. In addition, cornerbacks like Dexter McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson spoke to Ali and vouched for the staff and program.
The coaches, players and their respective messages piqued Ali's interest, but Maryland had more going for it, including some aesthetic qualities that naturally grab the attention of rising star high school athletes. Moving to the Big Ten, for one, gives Ali a chance to shine on one of college football's brightest stages, while the new campus upgrades -- including new dorms and an indoor practice facility – opened his eyes as well. Not to mention he'd have a chance to don those all-black Under Armour uniforms (his favorite color combination).
"They plan to get that bubble when I get there in January. That right there, the indoor facility, a place to do some drills, that plays a major role in a lot of people's recruitment," Ali said. "Coming from a school that never had it to having it, that's big, that's big."
Of course, the recruiting process ebbed and flowed throughout, as Ali accumulated scholarships from the likes of West Virginia, Louisville, Boston College, Clemson, UConn, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Temple, UVA and eventually Wisconsin and Florida. At one point last winter Ali was considered a heavy PSU lean, but there was a falling out between the two sides and each went their separate ways.
Since then, Ali has cycled through a number of different "favorites" lists, with schools such as Louisville (a stated "dream" offer), Florida and North Carolina topping it, while WVU and Pittsburgh were also regularly held in high regard. But there was always a constant whenever he was asked about where he stood in the process. Ali made sure to mention Maryland, harping on that rapport he had with the staff since his freshman year.
"I've been there four times now, and it's a place that feels like home," Ali said. "The coaches make me feel wanted there, and just walking around there people will come up and say, ‘Hey Kareem, how you doing?' That shows me how much I'm wanted, and it made me feel good."
Ali is the second straight high-profile recruit from New Jersey Maryland has landed. Last year, the Terps pulled in four-star receiver Juwann Winfree, and the Garden State figures to remain a priority area heading forward.
As far as what Ali brings to the table, he's considered a solid cover man who changes direction well, easily flips his hips, sticks to receivers and isn't afraid to get physical at the line. He does need to work on his makeup speed and playing the ball in the air, however.
Ali Is a Terp
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