The Terps played host to a half-dozen official visitors Dec. 11-13, including five current Maryland commitments. Running backs LoLo Harrison (DeMatha/Hyattsville, Md.) and Jake Funk (Damascus, Md.), receiver D.J. Turner (DeMatha), linebacker KeAndre Jones (Good Counsel/Olney, Md.) and cornerback Travon Stott (Good Counsel) all made their way to College Park, Md., in addition to uncommitted four-star guard Terrance Davis (DeMatha). (Davis’ comments will be detailed in a separate article).
Although Maryland’s offensive staff was not in place -- which is why the rest of the Terps’ 2016 class will wait until January before taking their UMD officials -- the 48-hour stay was another opportunity for the core locals to interact with new head coach D.J. Durkin and several key assistants such as defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim; defensive line coach Mike London; and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer.
The consensus following the trip? Well, the running back Harrison gave perhaps the clearest, most profound answer.
“Oh, we’re all locked in,” said Harrison, who has remained steadfast on his Maryland commitment since July 2014. “No one is changing their commitment – at least not anyone who was there [Dec. 11-13]. Everyone is saying they’re on board and ready to be a Terp.”
That includes the four-star linebacker Jones, who has been relatively mum since Durkin’s hiring. Rumors have surfaced about Jones potentially taking officials to Ohio State and other locales, and while the Good Counsel product may still venture out in January, his friends; teammates; and coaches believe he’s sticking with the hometown school.
Jones didn’t respond to inquiries, but one of his closest confidants, teammate Travon Stott, offered up his opinion.
“KeAndre had a great, great time. He loves Maryland,” said Stott, who committed to UMD in early April 2015. “Me and KeAndre both had our in-home [visits] with Coach Durkin before we went up for the official, and we were talking about it then, just how much we liked him. We talked about how high-energy of a coach he was and how fun he’d be to play for. So I think KeAndre really likes Coach Durkin, and he definitely really enjoyed himself on the official. I can’t say for sure if he’s going to visit anywhere else or not, but I think he’ll be a Terp.”
It’s safe to say each of the six visitors thoroughly enjoyed themselves Dec. 11-13. Not only did the half-dozen recruits spend plenty of time with the coaches and their respective player hosts, but they also had a chance to chill at Dave & Buster’s in Arundel Mills; have dinner at the trendy D.C. restaurant STK; and hang out with the team around campus.
“It was a really well-run event and visit. Everything was set up nicely,” Harrison said. “We ate like every four hours, spent time with all the coaches … and when the families; commits; and hosts went to Dave & Buster’s, that was probably the highlight (laughs). But in general it was nice seeing Coach Durkin again and meeting the new defensive staff.”
Harrison, along with most of the local pledges, hosted Durkin for an in-home earlier in December. The DeMatha back, however, also met Durkin during an unofficial visit to College Park Dec. 4, meaning the official was their third encounter.
“Talking to Coach Durkin again, he’s a really cool guy and a really good coach,” said Harrison, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and 14 scores this season. “He’s really going to change things around in College Park. He has big, big plans and I feel like we’re going to build a winner there. All of the [commits] I’ve talked to love him, and love his energy.
“And just the staff he’s bringing in, I still want to meet the offensive guys, but like Coach Shafer, Coach London, Coach Rahim -- every one of them is great. They’re really genuine people, and they know what they’re talking about. Coach London and Coach Shafer have been head coaches before, and now they’re on staff just adding to the program. They care about football and know a lot.”
The DeMatha star said Terps’ linebacker Jermaine Carter served as his player host. But Harrison already knew Carter, and the rest of the Terps for that matter, quite well from his multiple forays through College Park.
“All the players there are really cool; I know half of them anyway,” laughed Harrison. “Jesse [Aniebonam], Cavon [Walker], Jermaine, I know those guys from high school. They’re already like family to me. I’ll fit right in.”
Harrison’s sealed in and not about to waver, and neither is his teammate, D.J. Turner. The slot committed to Maryland in January 2015 and appreciated how the staff stood by him in the wake of his season-ending fracture fibula, suffered in Week One.
“I’m 100 percent locked in with Maryland, and have been since I committed,” Turner said. “I love [former interim head coach Mike] Locksley, but Coach Durkin is a great guy, and I feel like he’s the best think that’s happened to Maryland in a long time. Just his passion and commitment to the program, it’s great.”
While Turner definitely enjoyed the more aesthetic details during the visit, he said simply being around the coaches and players highlighted his stay. Maryland linebacker Cavon Walker hosted Turner, but, in all honestly, the receiver chatted up every player and commit he encountered.
“I love all those guys at Maryland,” said Turner, who is off crutches and should be fully recovered before the spring. “They always treat me like I’m already on the team. There’s a lot of love up there, and I can’t wait to get there.
“Of all the coaches, though, I probably spent the most time with Coach Aazaar, because we’ve known each other for awhile. He was my trainer when I was younger. He’s a great, great coach, a great recruiter, and I’m glad he’s on staff.”
Another incoming offensive weapon, running back Jake Funk, chimed in with similar sentiments. The Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year led Damascus to a class 3A state title, rushing for 2,866 yards and 51 touchdowns, including a state-record seven in the championship game.
“The official was just a great, great time with the coaching staff and players,” said Funk, who committed to Maryland Oct. 16. “I guess ‘fun’ would be the best way to describe it. It was just a whole lot of fun.”
Naturally, Funk pointed to the Dave & Buster’s gathering, where he won his fair share of prizes. But the running back had more to say about the dinner at STK in D.C.
“We all got 34 ounce steaks, and the sides to go with it,” Funk said, laughing. “Got our money’s worth. That was a great experience.”
On a more serious note, Funk said perhaps what struck him the most was the time he spent with host Ty Johnson, a fellow running back. The former Fort Hill (Cumberland, Md.) star gave Funk the low-down, letting him know what to expect and how to prepare for the next level.
“I really liked Ty a lot,” Funk said. “He’s a great source and a great person to learn from. I’m going to be spending a lot of time with him in the future, and I feel like he’s going to be a great mentor for me. He gave me all kinds of advice, and I really appreciated it all.”
As for D.J. Durkin, Funk said the coach readily appealed during his in-home visit earlier in the week. The official visit merely cemented his feelings about the new headman.
“I really like Coach Durkin, and his vision for where he wants the program to be,” Funk said. “The biggest thing for me was how he pictures Maryland football as a blue-collar team, and how we’re going to come out swinging and not back down for anyone. That really hit home with me.
“Then just meeting Coach London, Coach Shafer, Coach Aazaar, they’re all great guys. They’re all family guys and they really do care about you. It’s a great staff Coach Durkin is putting together, and I can’t wait to meet the offensive staff when he hires them.”
Moving over to the defensive side, Travon Stott echoed his fellow visitors. The Good Counsel corner, who suffered his second consecutive season-ending injury with a preseason foot fracture, said he “honestly didn’t know what to expect” when D.J. Durkin came aboard. But the headman quickly won him over.
“Coach Durkin is a high-energy coach, and he’s also a defensive coach, which I like a lot,” said Stott, who mentioned his flexibility has returned and he’ll begin running in the next two weeks. “He talked to both me and my parents, and really did a great job. We liked what he had to say. He was saying how Maryland is on the rise and how this class coming in could potentially change the program. He wants us to be the ones that start the turnaround at Maryland.
“But he was also saying how we shouldn’t just think of this as one class of kids coming in, but an entire football program in general we’re looking to help and build. This is not about now, and it’s not just about us, but it’s about the future. And he was saying how myself and the other guys coming in are a big part of helping build that future.”
Besides Durkin, Stott offered up praise for Abdul-Rahim, London and Shafer. He spent the most time with Abdul-Rahim, his soon-to-be position coach.
“Coach Aazaar is awesome. He’s a young coach and he really relates well to kids,” Stott said. “But he’s also a well-respected DB coach, and you can tell he knows what he’s talking about. I spent more than an hour with him just going over DB things, and he was teaching me so much already. I can’t wait to play for him.”
Stott also gleaned some knowledge from another defensive back expert. Current Terps’ corner Darnell Savage hosted Stott, although the two only had a brief-discussion about football-related matters.
“Darnell, I had a lot of fun with Darnell and the other [Maryland] players too,” Stott said. “They really showed us a good time. I knew Darnell when I first committed, and he’s like a brother to me. I knew all the other guys too, so it was like I was getting back together with all my brothers. It was like a homecoming, for real.
“We were hanging out in the dorms, went to Dave & Buster’s, ate a great steak. It was an awesome experience. Can’t wait to get back.”
Note: Maryland receiver pledge Tino Ellis (DeMatha) and uncommitted four-star guard Richard Merritt (Carroll/Washington, D.C.) were supposed to visit Dec. 11-13, but both had last-second situations crop up that prevented them from heading to College Park. They are each scheduled to take their Maryland officials in January, following the dead recruiting period.
Ellis remains a firm Terps’ commitment and insists he’s not entertaining other suitors, while Merritt could have UMD atop his personal leaderboard (he’s also considering Florida, Auburn and Va Tech).