It's a moment that's come to define his high school career thus far, despite the long touchdown runs, the pick-sixes, the kick returns brought back to pay dirt. It's an eight-second moment -- a mere blip in his football life -- he's had to answer for, not only to fans who wrote him off after watching him writhe on the field, but to college recruiters who were leery of recruiting a kid who didn't just break his leg -- but snapped his right femur.
Would cornerback/running back Darnell Savage ever be the same in the wake of Sept. 13, 2013, the second game of his junior season?
Heck, would the leader of the Caravel (Bear, Del.) Buccaneers even return to the field at all after taking a toss-sweep to the right and suffering a direct below-the-belt hit from an incoming Episcopal Academy defender?
And, if he did recover, would this 5-foot-11, 177-pound dynamo, who laid on the field for 30 minutes after said blow, ever come close to reverting to form?
The Maryland Terrapins gambled that he would -- and never wavered. And that, more than any other reason, is why Darnell Savage is the latest member of Maryland's 2015 recruiting class.
"They [Maryland] were extremely loyal to me, and that played a huge role," Savage said. "They stayed with me 100 percent through my injury and everything. I had to respect that. "
It's been a little over a year since Maryland began pursuing Savage in earnest, though former Terps assistant and current Morgan State headman Lee Hull knew him much longer than that. Hull, the Terps' ex-point man in Delaware, identified Savage as a prime talent during his freshman year at Caravel. Awhile later, during last June's one-day camp in College Park, UMD extended the formal scholarship.
It was Savage's very first offer, and it's one he would never forget.
"Maryland had a lot of faith and a lot of respect for me when I was a young guy. I was only a sophomore and I was going into my junior year when they offered," Savage said. "I didn't even think I was that good. I feel like I'm a lot better now, but they had a lot of respect for me, and believed in me, and gave the offer… and it meant a lot."
Savage continued to maintain a rapport with Hull, and in every interview conducted he made sure to mention Maryland's former receivers' coach. Four months after picking up the verbal, though, Savage went down with the gruesome femur injury. The rehab would be long and hard, and he wouldn't be able to walk for more than a month, while having to don a boot for several months.
Hull reassured Savage he still had a spot at the University of Maryland.
When Hull left for Morgan, however, some figured that might hurt UMD's chances with the Delaware speedster. But new receivers' coach Keenan McCardell, along with defensive backs coach Brian Stewart (Savage is being recruited as a corner), didn't miss a beat. The coaches and faces may have changed, but the offer still stood, and for that Savage was appreciative.
"The way it worked out it was really blessing because normally when your recruiting coach leaves you start thinking about other schools and everything, but they stayed in contact with me and made a hard push," Savage said. "Me and coach Stew [Brian Stewart] have a great relationship, we just hit it off right off the bat.
"I am able to talk to him about serious stuff like football and school, but we also joke around sometimes too," Savage said. "I am going to be looking up to him for the next couple years so I think it's really good that we are as close as we are."
Savage quickly developed a relationship first with Stewart and then with McCardell. He spoke with both while on a junior day visit to College Park last winter, and saw each again when they ventured through Caravel during the evaluation period. In addition, head coach Randy Edsall visited his high school and continued to express his support as well.
"He [Edsall] just told me that they weren't going anywhere and they were going to stay with me throughout the entire process," Savage said. "He [Edsall] said I may have to prove myself to some other schools, but they still believed in me and he just kept telling me how much they still wanted me."
For awhile, it seemed like Savage could end the recruiting process early and jump on the UMD bandwagon in the beginning stages of 2014. But Savage has a competitive spirit, and he wanted to prove he could come back better than ever from his injury. Basically, he gambled on himself – and won. Savage ran a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash at an early-offseason combine and ended up wowing onlookers during drills and one-on-ones.
Soon thereafter Savage decided to attend one-day camps at various East Coast locales, and at each stop he added another scholarship. Temple. Rutgers. Syracuse. He crushed them all, racking in verbals from all three. Savage did not land a coveted Penn State scholarship, but it was evident the Delaware burner still had the speed and swagger that opened Maryland's eyes the year before.
"I feel like my game has been on a steady increase because the more and more I play they more I improve. I feel like I am a good enough athlete to compete with anyone," Savage said. "I think my main thing is to get more fundamentally sound, and that will take me to the next level."
Rejuvenated and with scholarships in toe, Savage began to open up to his newly presented options. At one point he said Rutgers pulled even with Maryland, while Syracuse was a close third.
But then Savage and his family returned to College Park June 23 for a personal visit with the Terps' staff. Edsall and Co. have developed a knack this offseason for convincing recruits UMD suited them best (see: Davenport, Jahrvis; Cook, Jameel), and all it took to turn Savage was one more foray through Terp land, reminding him how much he loved Maryland.
"I had a pretty good feel for the place before I got there today, but we talked to the academic advisors, toured the campus and saw the dorms, and all the facilities. The whole time I just has a really good feeling and I just felt home," Savage said. "I kind of realized I was going to commit when I was watching them workout. I was watching coach Stewart talk to his DBs while they were working out and I just knew.
"And at the time [while Savage was watching the workout] my parents were above watching from the stands, and I texted my dad and told him dad I think I want to commit, and he said it was up to me and he supported me 100 percent," Savage said. "Even though I knew [I was going to commit], I actually kept it a secret until the end of the visit when I was talking to coach Edsall by himself in his office."
With that, Savage became Maryland's 14th class of 2015 pledge and second cornerback commitment.
"He [Edsall] claims he could tell before I walked into his office, he said, ‘I was glowing,'" Savage said. "He [Edsall] laughed, he said, ‘It's about time,' it was pretty funny and then he just gave me a hug and we took some pictures. It was great. I don't think it has really fully hit me yet. I just feel great… it will probably hit me tomorrow morning."
Although Savage played just one game last year, his speed and athleticism should make him an asset out on an island. He considers himself a quick-twitch, lockdown defensive back with instincts to boot.
"I think my strength on the field is that I am pretty fast, and my transitions in and out of breaks, and my ability to fly around the field and make plays," Savage said. "I still need to work on the little things and the finer arts of playing corner so that is really going to be my focus now."
Savage has quieted the doubters this camp season, but he still has to show out in pads. He's eager to carry his Caravel squad this season, and leave high school with a bang, all the while squashing all memories of last Sept. 13.
"Now my main focus is to finish out strong, in school and on the football field," Savage said. "Before I leave I want to win a State Championship."
Interview conducted by Scout.com field reporter Rachel Klein
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