COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It’s been four years since Randy Edsall ascended to head coach of the Maryland football program, and never before have the Terps relied so heavily on transfers to fill potential voids. During his UMD tenure, Edsall has typically promoted from within, elevating the homegrown talent in lieu of seeking outside help (with receiver Deon Long and defensive end Zeke Riser being some obvious exceptions).
But times, they are a changin,’ as Edsall and the Terps did a tremendous job spot recruiting this summer to bolster their ranks at critical spots.
Thanks to graduation, attrition and lack of depth in certain areas, the Terps reached for more than just a cursory transfer or two this off-season. Edsall brought in an immediately-eligible fifth-year quarterback, Daxx Garman, from Oklahoma State; an immediately-eligible fifth-year outside linebacker, Jefferson Ashiru, from Connecticut; and an immediately-eligible freshman tight end, Avery Edwards, who committed to -- but never enrolled at -- North Carolina. Not to mention last-minute linebacker transfer Melvin Keihn, a sophomore who boomeranged back to College Park after a year at Virginia Tech, though he must sit out this year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Granted, none of the above trio will be guaranteed leading roles in 2015, but it’s clear each should, at the very least, play significant roles, if not start. Namely, the quarterback Garman, the most “hyped” of the Terps’ newcomers who drew large crowds at Media Day today.
The pro-style, 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Southlake, Texas, spent four years at Oklahoma State, but didn’t earn playing time until last season when starter J.W. Walsh suffered an injury. The big-armed right-hander took advantage of the opportunity, however, starting eight games and throwing for 2,041 yards and leading the Cowboys in total offense. But Garman completed only 55 percent of his passes, while tossing 12 touchdowns against 12 picks.
Even so, much is expected of the Lone Star State native, who will compete with senior Caleb Rowe for the starting gig.
“I didn’t bring anybody in here to be an insurance policy,” Edsall said. “I bring people in because I feel they can help us compete and win in the Big Ten. That’s why we ended up bringing Daxx in, because I felt he could help us win. He’s not an insurance policy at all. He’s here to compete, just like Caleb…. It’s a healthy situation to have that kind of competition…. That kind of competition is going to bring out the best in you and ultimately make you better.”
A soft-spoken, collected individual, Garman did his best cornerback impersonation during media day, actively deflecting quarterback-controversy questions in favor of politically-correct responses.
No, he doesn’t feel any added pressure to win the job or perform at an All-Big-Ten level, noting the lone goal is to help the offense “be as productive as possible.” Yes, Garman mentioned that he, Rowe and third quarterback Perry Hills all get along “great” and want to see each other succeed. And, no, Garman doesn’t believe playing at Oklahoma State and competing against Big 12 defenses will give him a leg up at Maryland.
About the closest Garman came to tooting his own horn was an admission that he came to Maryland because he sensed an opportunity for extensive playing time.
“I looked at some ACC and SEC schools,” Garman said, “but Maryland caught my eye off the bat with their situation.”
Edsall called the upcoming signal-caller battle “interesting,” mentioning that Garman, Rowe and Hills will all have a chance to prove themselves this August. The headman said each of the three is hungry, playing with the proverbial chip on their shoulders.
Garman, though, has certainly left an impression during his two-months in College Park.
“Daxx is a football junkie. He’s smart, he doesn’t say a lot, but he’s a worker,” Edsall said. “He’s a student of the game.”
The OSU transfer said he’s spent pretty much every day in and around Gossett Team House, either studying film, honing his footwork, throwing to receivers, and working in the weight room. Garman also actively picks the brains of both Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, gleaning as much pre-camp knowledge as possible.
“I’ve learned a lot from Coach Locksley and the rest of the staff so far. If you can pick up one small thing, it helps,” said Garman, who mentioned he’s concentrating on his short- to intermediate throws this year. “I just try to learn as much as I can so I can be aware of everything that’s going on. I’ve always sort of done that, but even more so this year, because I’m more mature and in a new system.
“I just want to get a better understanding of the offense and really get into the playbook. I’m really excited about the offense. Coach Locksley brings such a versatile playbook, and it makes me excited about what we can do this year.”
One other intangible quality that’s impressed Edsall is Garman’s natural leadership abilities. Instead of blending in like many newcomers are wont to do, Garman has actively sought out his Terps’ teammates, acclimating himself soon after arriving in College Park. He’s been throwing passes to the receivers all off-season, while chatting up the others in the weight room and outside the facility as well.
“[Leadership is] something as a quarterback, you have to have. I think you have to no matter if it’s your first day or fifth year. You have to show those [leadership] qualities,” Garman said. “Everyone is looking at you, expecting you step up and make plays. So it’s something I’ve taken on.”
“Daxx has been great so far,” Rowe said. “He’s a great guy and I really like hanging out with him. He’s a really good teammate.”
While Garman and Rowe are seemingly in a dead heat for the lead job, the tight end Edwards could have the inside track for the starting slot. The 6-5, 230-pound North Carolina native brings a dynamic, pass-catching, field-stretching presence to Maryland’s offense, which the Terps were lacking last season with Andrew Isaacs injured and P.J. Gallo and Derrick Hayward failing to find a rhythm.
“I’ve never seen [Edwards] run, so I can’t say [whether he’ll be a starter or not]. That’s what the 29 practices are for,” tight ends coach John Dunn said. “But he’s got a very good skill-set to start from. He’s certainly talented enough to play here… He’s long, athletic, and he can run going back to his high school tape. He played defensive end his senior year, so he’s got some physicality. I think he’s got some skill-sets that are different than what we’ve had in the past in terms of we can split him out, using him in the box and on the outside.”
Edwards admitted he was known as purely a pass-catching tight end coming out of high school, but during the last year or so he’s added bulk and improved his blocking.
“Obviously in the Big Ten there’s a lot of top first-round draft picks at defensive end you need to block, so definitely balancing out my game has been a huge goal for me this summer,” said Edwards, who will have four years of eligibility. “But definitely I’m staying fast and quick, and [having] great hands like I did in high school. I can’t wait to get on the field and get things started.”
Maybe more than any other current Terp, Edwards is thankful just to have an opportunity to compete. Last June, weeks before enrolling at North Carolina, he was charged with felony larceny, stealing in excess of $50,000 worth of jewelry. The charges were eventually dropped, but the Tar Heels elected not to admit the star tight end. Thus, he spent all last spring at IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), in hopes of reentering onto the recruiting radar.
While at IMG, he caught the eye of Maryland area recruiter Mike Locksley and later the tight ends coach Dunn. Those two reported back to Edsall, who fully vetted the former three-star recruit. The Terps’ head coach then began talking extensively to Edwards and his family before finally offering a scholarship this spring. Meanwhile, Isaacs, last year's opening day starter, is not back to full health yet, thus the bigger window of opportunity for the hungry newbie.
“And I haven’t looked back since. I’m blessed to be at a school like Maryland and it’s a great opportunity for me,” said Edwards, who also considered looks from Miami, Florida, Iowa State and Purdue. “Maryland is a great academic school with a great business program, which was huge in my decision. But, honestly, the character of the coaches from Coach Locks to Coach Edsall to Coach Dunn drew me in. They’re great guys, they’re first-class all the way around, and I can’t thank them enough for this opportunity. They believe in second chances, and obviously I was a guy in need of one. They really believed in me, that I would take advantage of my second chance and not just make the same mistake again.”
Edwards said he’ll do whatever he can to aid the squad, whether that’s as a starting tight end or as a special teams gunner. His goal, though, is to be a versatile pass catcher and blocker, making plays in the running and passing attacks.
“I get the opportunity to come in and make an impact as soon as possible. I have the chance to play right away here without having to sit out a year or redshirt,” Edwards said. “I think definitely anywhere you go you have to earn your way, but Maryland last year had some problems at the tight end position. So that definitely creates an opportunity for me, and I definitely feel I fit in with the offense.”
Edwards’ and Garman’s transfer situations were fairly well-known, but the graduate transfer Ashiru’s were a bit more vague. There were conflicting reports out of Connecticut, the linebacker’s party insisting he was forced out and head coach Bob Diaco saying Ashiru left on his own.
Regardless, the 6-1, 225-pound Powder Spring, Ga., native is in College Park and in line for a starting spot. Ashiru started 18 games in Storrs, Conn., racking up 47 stops and a pick during the 2014 campaign.
“I think so,” said outside linebackers coach Lyndon Johnson when asked if Ashiru had a good shot to earn the No. 1 SAM spot. “But even if he’s not a starter I think he’ll be a role player somewhere, at least in our sub-packages and on special teams. I think he’ll come in and find a way to get on the field in some regard. He’s going to be ready to play.”
Johnson would know. He, along with defensive backs coach Darrell Perkins and Randy Edsall, recruited Ashiru back at McEachern High School. In fact, Ashiru said one of the main reasons he transferred to Maryland was his five-year relationship with Perkins, who just left Uconn for UMD this year.
“I’m familiar with a lot of the staff and I already know the Maryland defense pretty well, but, honestly, I’ve been here like 1.5 months now and these guys [teammates] are already like family,” said Ashiru, who is pursuing a degree in real estate development. “Every day I come in the weight room and connect with these boys. Us defensive guys, we’re all together, and the energy here -- it’s different. They love their football here and they’re all here to win games. We’re calling ourselves ‘The Darkside,’ because we want to be something mean and nasty [on defense] this year.”
Ashiru’s main priority is helping the defense wherever he can, but with Maryland losing so much linebacker experience he immediately becomes the most accomplished Terps’ outside backer.
“He’s a guy that’s kind of been through the ringer, been out in the fire, so he’s not a traditional newcomer. Jefferson is the only guy in my room that’s been a full-time starter before, so I expect him to bring some leadership,” Johnson said. “And so far, from what I’ve seen, he has. He’s a fast learner, he’s picked up our system pretty well in the classroom, and he’s definitely showed some leadership abilities.
“Mentally he’s along the same lines of a [former UMD safety/linebacker] Matt Robinson. He’s not as a tall as Matt, but mentally in terms of his learning capacity. But the closest guy [he compares to]is probably [former UMD linebacker] Darin Drakeford. Jefferson is playing SAM whereas Darin was more of a MIKE guy, but [Ashiru] has that type of body and mentality. I’m excited to work with him.”
It’s safe to say Ashiru is excited to work with Johnson, and the rest of team, too. He called 2015 “my season” and said he has aspirations of landing of NFL radars.
“I’m shooting for the stars, man,” Ashiru said. “I’m reaching for the highest peak. But, oh man, I can’t wait just to get out there. I honestly can’t wait to get out there and compete against the Big Ten. I mean, I was in the AAC. Come on, the AAC? This is the Big Ten, man, and I’m drooling over it, salivating over it.
“I can’t wait to help my teammates and help Maryland win some games. That’s why I’m here.”
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