You have to go way back -- way, way back to 1990 as the last time a Fort Hill High School (Cumberland, Md.) football player signed with Maryland.
That was fullback Ricky Budd, who averaged 5.9 yards per carry and was named all state and to the Big 33 high school all-star game as a senior that season. Budd's career never took off in College Park, Md., however.
Ever since, Fort Hill and the surrounding Cumberland areas have mostly be an extreme outpost, literally and figuratively, for the Terps.
In that same era, the Terps may have thought they struck gold when they got a bead on Allegany High School star defender Shannon Stevens, but off-the-field issues, and later a stint at Glen Mills (Pa.) Prep, derailed the star defensive end/outside linebacker from ever making it to College Park in the early 90s.
So this week's breakthrough of sorts in the region -- in the form of Fort Hill speedster slot/corner/kick returner Ty Johnson, who helped the school to a 14-0 mark last season, and over the state line at Frankfort (Ridgeley, W.Va.) gunslinger Gage Shaffer -- have helped the Terps re-establish ties to the Western part of the state and beyond.
And you have to go back a decade to when the last West Virginia product -- Morgantown's University High fullback Cory Jackson -- inked with the Terps, as those have been even rarer. What thin talent that comes out of the state mostly goes in-state to WVU, while the Mountaineers have long had a better hold on Western Maryland and its few powers than the Terps.
Last week's pickups, which also included a key local from Prince George's County that fills a pressing team need -- Potomac High (Oxon Hill, Md.) defensive tackle Keiron Howard -- all fill a ‘big picture" puzzle in many ways for the Terps. Maryland had not signed a player from Potomac since the late 1990s, when linebacker Marlon Moye-Moore inked a letter of intent to the Terps.
Johnson, at 5-feet-10, 180 pounds, totaled 1,817 yards and 23 touchdowns last season at Fort Hill, not to mention 10 interceptions at corner. He brings another DeAndre Lane-like mighty-mite speedster to the fold, with the ability to play multiple positions. He burned a 4.4 40-yard dash at Terps camp Sunday, garnering an offer and committing later in the day.
It was big to get back in at Fort Hill, a state perennial power at the MPSSAA class IA level, and an area the Terps no doubt would like to draw more of a fan base, especially with their Big Ten move this fall.
Shaffer, well, perhaps think Sam Hollenbach when visualizing the 6-7 'slinger, as he can whip the ball around but is only a decent athlete. Whether he will be as cerebral and successful as Hollenbach, the former Terps' 6-5 pocket passer who arrived raw but made himself into a Champs Sports Bowl winning quarterback under Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, remains to be seen. But there are definitely some of the same attributes as far as measureables and the ability to toss it around. In a run-heavy offense at Frankfort, he managed to throw for 1,200-plus yards each of the last two seasons.
Howard, perhaps, is something of a poor-man's Phil Taylor, another local PG County product who stuffed the run well but unfortunately escaped the state to Penn State, and later Baylor, before being a first-round NFL Draft pick. Howard comes from a key local public school power that puts out its share of top-shelf talent (see Florida State's Ronald Darby, who the Terps missed on three years ago), who will soon be in the NFL.
Howard helps at a need position with depth and talent low on the Terps defensive line as they move to the Big Ten this season. Meanwhile his teammate, speedy slot Kesean Strong, who also shined at Terps camp this summer with his 4.46 40 time, may be next. His commitment may come in short order.
As tangibly important as some of these pickups are on the field, they also help the Terps in key areas -- or areas they have simply been non-factors before.
Neither Shaffer nor Johnson were highly-rated at the time of their pledges this week, and Maryland was their first big offer and mostly their first major college attention. But no one can deny Johnson's speed, and tremendous character, while Terps head coach Randy Edsall made a habit of taking somewhat unknowns at UConn and turning them into pro talent. Shaffer will have a learning curve no doubt, and he may project more long-term, but the Terps ideally want two quarterbacks in this class, and he's a solid one to start. It can be tricky signing two triggermen in a class, so a developmental one like Shaffer seemingly fits the bill.
The Terps class, ranked No. 50 nationally, stands at six pledges, with a handful more to come this month as Edsall and company have added a solid base to start. Tapping some of these new areas, or re-visiting the old, can only open more doors as the Terps expand their recruiting footprint with their imminent move to the Big Ten.
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