Welcome to our next edition of Inside the Shell, the weekly Maryland football recruiting roundup.
Merritt, Lees On Board
Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin reeled in his first two commitments last week, and both just so happened to pop on the same day, Dec. 18. While we expected four-star guard Richard Merritt (Carroll/Washington, D.C.) to eventually jump on the UMD bandwagon, the second pledge came as somewhat of a surprise. Durkin, with an assist from his former employer, Michigan, reached back into Aussie country and pulled a 27-year-old punter who plays professionally in the Victoria Football League.
Wade Lees, who received an 18-month ban for purchasing a fat-burning substance that contained steroids back in 2012, believed his best opportunity to continue his punting/kicking career was in the United States. Thus, he took part in Nathan Chapman’s ProKick Australia program, which helps rear aspiring punters for U.S. competition. There are over 50 Aussies who have earned scholarships after training with ProKick.
Lees, who did not know former Maryland kicker and fellow countryman Brad Craddock personally, became the latest when Durkin threw out a lifeline after becoming familiar with the big-legged booter while at Michigan. (Lees was originally supposed to attend UM, but headman Jim Harbaugh didn’t have a scholarship for him). The Melbourne native had several schools interested in his services -- Clemson, North Carolina and Michigan -- but the Terps were the first to extend a formal scholarship. Lees, not wanting to let a second chance at reviving his career slip away, snapped up the offer.
“I just want to thank Coach Durkin for remembering me and continuing to recruit me,” said Lees, who mentioned he’ll have four years of eligibility and is set to enroll in January. “I will be looking forward to getting to Maryland and working really hard to win the respect of all my new teammates, and help turn this great school into a successful team.”
At ProKick, Lees consistently sent the ball 45-50 yards with a 4.5-second hangtime. A left-footed booter, Lees is adept at drop punting; the traditional American spiral; distance punting; and directional punting. He does not kick, but proclaims to be quick enough to take off and run on a fake.
Lees has closely followed Aussies-turned-American-punters Blake O’Neill (Michigan), Tom Hackett (Utah) and Cam Johnston (Ohio State), all of whom he counts as friends. He hopes to have a career akin to that trio, who have punted well at their respective universities.
With Lees in tow, a couple current Maryland punters may look to transfer. Neither Nick Pritchard nor Lee Shrader were on scholarship, so it’s conceivable both opt out. Nick Rubinowicz, meanwhile, was presented a full ride by ex-UMD coach Randy Edsall, but his status is questionable as well.
You can read more about Lees HERE.
As for Merritt, the only surprise about his pledge was the timing. The Carroll guard said he wanted to take a couple official visits, including one to Maryland, before committing around Signing Day. He all but acknowledged he would be popping to the hometown school eventually; it just turned out to be sooner rather than later.
Why? Well, Merritt let on he had no reason to wait since his Terps’ pledge was practically a foregone conclusion after D.J. Durkin hired the D.C. product’s former high school coach, Aazaar Abdul-Rahim. But since we at Terrapin Times are naturally skeptical, we’re not sure that’s an entirely accurate sentiment.
During the course of the last several months, Merritt saw his once-extensive offer list, which included more than 30 scholarships, slowly but surely dwindle. Due to concerns about his conditioning, athleticism and work ethic, many of Merritt’s favored suitors (Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Florida State, Ohio State, UCLA, Arizona, Michigan State, Michigan and UNC) dropped off.
So, by late November, Merritt began to focus on programs that actually were in contact with him. He said he spoke to coaches from Maryland, Virginia Tech, Florida and Auburn, and planned to officially visit each before selecting one of the quartet. But turns out Merritt wasn’t a “take” for the Gators or Tigers either, and it’s questionable whether or not the Hokies truly wanted him.
Which left Maryland, a school that also favored other linemen before Durkin assumed the reins and hired Abdul-Rahim. So, considering the above, there’s a reason why Merritt suddenly decided to end his recruitment sans officials.
But Merritt probably would have wound up at Maryland anyway. His relationship with Abdul-Rahim was such that the recruit viewed his former coach as a father-figure: “He’s someone I know I can trust.” Merritt didn’t even need to meet Durkin or the new offensive staff. As long as his main man was in College Park, the guard was just fine with the Terps.
Merritt will follow through with a UMD official after the New Year to familiarize himself with the Terps’ new coach and the rest of the staffers. He’s already been on campus unofficially numerous times, so he’s well aware what it’s like to be in and around College Park. Barring a snafu, Merritt should be signing with Maryland in February.
But now the question is, Can he play?
In short, yes . . . if Merritt improves his conditioning.
The upside is there given his size and strength, and we like Merritt’s inherent mean streak. But, again, it comes down to work ethic. Even in high school, Merritt’s form and fundamentals tended to wane late during games, sapping his power; punch; and any semblance of quickness.
But when Merritt brings his “A” game, he’s a stout, sturdy road-grader who can maul his man. He gets off the line well, plays with solid leverage for a prospect his size (6-feet-5, 345 pounds), displays a potent initial strike and can push opposing defenders back. He usually hits inside the pads, while his relatively long arms and violent hands make it difficult for linemen to disengage.
In pass protection, Merritt gains extension and anchors, but his kick slide needs to become more fluid. Moreover, he has to work on shifting his weight and readjusting to quick-twitch edge rushers. Merritt’s not the fleetest of foot, either, which is why he’s better suited for guard than tackle.
Personally, I rated him 3.5-stars, meaning he projects as a potential starting FBS lineman after a year or two in the system.
You can read what Merritt had to say HERE.
You can read what his coach had to say about him HERE.
New Offers Out
Elijah Daniels, S, Cardinal Gibbons (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.): Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin offered three current Minnesota commits in one night Dec. 19, including a pair of defensive backs who happen to be twins.
Elijah and Elisha Daniels both insist they’re heading to the same college, whether that be in Minneapolis, Minn., or some other locale. And that “other locale” could very well wind up being College Park, which they’ll trek to Jan. 22.
Elijah Daniels, and his brother for that matter, were particularly excited when they spoke to Durkin. Daniels appreciated the headman’s defensive reputation, the success he had at Florida and Michigan, and his competitive nature. Moreover, the Cardinal Gibbons thumper noted Maryland’s Under Armour connection; Big Ten affiliation; and the success their childhood “idol,” current UMD corner Will Likely -- he hails from the Muck region, near where the Danielses live -- has had in College Park. The opportunity to contribute early during their careers is a major selling point too.
“The offer definitely caught our attention. It’s a great opportunity, a great program, and it’s a blessing to have,” Elijah Daniels said. “Right now we’re committed to Minnesota, and that’s our school. But we also don’t want to put all the eggs in one basket. … We’ll see how the atmosphere; the staff; and the vibe is at Maryland.”
Elijah Daniels said the two still have much love for Minnesota, however, and there’s a good possibility the brothers remain Gophers. Daniels couldn’t say enough about the family atmosphere and welcoming environment in and around the Minnesota program.
The two will also take a look at UCF and Iowa State, with an official visit to the former in the works.
But, in reality, this is a two team race between the Terps and Gophers. When pressed, Daniels called the chances of he and his twin flipping to UMD “50-50.” Maybe, just maybe, the Maryland staff can tip the odds in their favor following that January College Park official visit.
You can read more about Elijah Daniels, who projects as an in-the-box safety, HERE.
Elisha Daniels, CB, Cardinal Gibbons (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.): While his brother is more of a downhill headhunter (are we allowed to use that term these days?), Elisha Daniels is known as a cover man, with the ability to shift between corner; safety; and nickelback. Elisha Daniels is a bit faster (4.42 40 yard dash compared to 4.48) and a bit more athletic than his sibling too.
Regardless, the defensive-back needy Terps will take both in a heartbeat.
Much like his brother, Elisha Daniels was thrilled when he heard from head coach D.J. Durkin. The cornerback expressed similar sentiments and had nearly the same comments as his twin, acknowledging UMD’s need for defensive backs; Durkin’s past success coaching defenses; Under Amour; and the Will Likely factor.
He offered the highest compliments for Durkin, however.
“Coach Durkin is a real cool guy, and I can tell he lives and sleeps football,” Elisha Daniels said. “He’s energetic and passionate, and that’s the type of coach I want to play for. He’s also a real personable guy and a cool guy; I can tell he relates well to his players.”
Elisha Daniels said he and his brother can’t wait to meet Durkin and learn more about Maryland during their intended official. But, as aforementioned, the Danielses are on board with Minnesota, which provides many of the same advantages UMD does, per the brothers.
Now it’s up to Durkin to convince the pair they could potentially have an even greater impact in College Park than Minneapolis. Given Durkin’s recruiting prowess, we do believe the headman can turn the defensive-back duo. But we’ll know more following that pivotal Jan. 22 visit.
You can read more about Elisha Daniels HERE.
Dredrick Snelson, WR, Flanagan (Fr. Lauderdale, Fla.): Snelson was the third Minnesota commit Durkin offered, the four-star wideout hauling in the Maryland scholarship minutes after the Daniels brothers. Snelson wasn’t quite as high on the Terps as Elijah and Elisha Daniels, but the 6-0, 198-pounder did have his share of praise for Maryland/Durkin.
Snelson knew Durkin from when the latter was at Michigan, the ex-Wolverines’ defensive coordinator serving as the Sunshine State receiver’s area recruiter. The Flanagan product never received a Michigan offer, but the Durkin connection had been established.
“[Durkin] has so much energy, and you can tell he loves the game,” Snelson said. “He’s a really good guy. He’s the type of coach players want to play for. And what he was telling me all sounded really good. It sounds like a great program that’s in really good hands.”
Snelson went on to laud UMD’s “sick” uniforms, the fact it’s in the Big Ten and the school’s academic reputation. He also mentioned that Maryland’s subpar 2015 campaign under the former coaching staff would not diminish his view of the Terps.
Following his conversation with Durkin, Snelson said he’d be officially visiting College Park along with his two good friends, Elijah and Elisha Daniels.
Of course, Snelson already followed the twins to Minnesota. So if the two defensive backs flip to Maryland, would Snelson follow suit?
“That is pretty important to me; they are my good friends,” Snelson said of playing at the same college as the Danielses. “But in the end we have to do what’s best for us. And if we all end up at the same school, that would be great.”
The main reason Snelson would deliberate on a possible Maryland commitment is the other suitors vying for his services. While the Daniels brothers only have Minnesota, Maryland and potentially UCF under consideration, Snelson identified up to five possible landing spots.
The receiver all but admitted he’d be decommitting from Minnesota, instead mulling over hometown Miami; UCF; Virginia Tech; FSU; and Maryland. Of that quintet, Snelson said he would “definitely” be taking officials to UMD; UCF; and Miami, leading us to believe the ‘Noles probably have higher-rated options on their board.
If that’s the case, it could come down to Maryland and Miami for the Florida prospect. It’s never easy topping the Canes for an in-state target, but if D.J. Durkin can work his magic, and the Daniels brothers can do their part (if they choose UMD, that is), the Terps have more than a puncher’s chance.
You can read more about Snelson HERE.
Terrell Lucas, DE, Miramar (Hollywood, Fla.): The Terps don’t just need defensive backs to fill out the 2016 class; they need pass rushers as well. Head coach D.J. Durkin’s opened up the defensive-end floodgates right before the holidays, dipping back into Florida and offering the Duke pledge Terrell Lucas Dec. 21.
Per the 6-3, 225-pounder, the Maryland offer was somewhat expected considering Durkin recruited Lucas when the coach resided in Ann Arbor. In fact, Lucas even pondered committing to the Wolverines last summer following a campus visit. (He elected to drag out his recruitment, however, and UM headman Jim Harbaugh has since filled the spot).
But with Durkin in College Park, Lucas’ mind is on Maryland. The defensive end said he and the UMD head coach have a “pretty good relationship,” while also noting Durkin’s “great defensive reputation” and “tough defenses” at UM and Florida. Lucas said Durkin’s recent pitch, highlighted by early playing time opportunities, are some of the primary reasons he’ll be trekking up to College Park Jan. 22.
Lucas also has family around the D.C. area, which could make UMD an even more attractive option.
But there’s no guarantee Lucas will flip to Maryland. He remains firmly committed to Duke, speaking to the Blue Devils’ academic reputation; up-and-coming football program (this season, notwithstanding); and coaching staff. Moreover, Tennessee’s coaches have been upping their pursuit and will host Lucas for an official Jan. 11.
The Terps will get last dibs, however, as Lucas doesn’t intend to take any other trips after Jan. 22. If that final official comes to fruition, there are better-than-average odds Lucas winds up attending school in College Park.
You can read more about Lucas HERE.
Kee Whetzel, WR/LB, Countryside (Clearwater, Fla.): A two-way standout at Countryside, Whetzel could potentially fit at receiver or linebacker at Maryland. The 6-3, 187-pounder prefers having the ball in his hands, but acknowledged linebacker may be his more natural position.
Either way, Whetzel has a UMD scholarship and should be officially visiting Jan. 22. He was originally scheduled to see Indiana that weekend, but basically called the Terps a more attractive option. (Whetzel only has time for two January trips, a Jan. 15 all-star game preventing him from taking an OV that weekend).
Whetzel didn’t know a whole lot about Maryland prior to his Dec. 20 conversation with Durkin, but he easily related to the headman. He talked up Durkin’s energy, vision and demeanor, believing the coach has UMD moving in the right direction. Whetzel wasn’t aware of UMD’s new offensive coordinator, Walt Bell, at the time, but Durkin did suggest the Florida star would have an opportunity to contribute sooner rather than later, which piqued the recruit’s interest.
With Whetzel’s comments in mind, the Terps would seem to be in the thick of things. But before forecasting the Clearwater native to College Park, Durkin and Co. have to withstand Arizona. The Wildcats will host Whetzel Jan. 29, his final official before selecting a school. The receiver/linebacker said Zona’s staff had been on him for weeks, hitting him via text and Twitter.
Hometown USF and Louisville are under consideration as well, although Whetzel won’t be officially visiting Orlando, Fla., or Louisville, Kent.
Our gut? It’s a tough call at this point. In all honestly, Whetzel is probably 50-50 between the Terps and Wildcats.
You can read more about Whetzel HERE.
Benaiah Franklin, WR, Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.): Count Franklin as the first recruit new UMD offensive coordinator Walt Bell has targeted. Bell, who has a foothold in Georgia, originally offered Franklin while the coach was at Arkansas State, the two developing a rapport before the receiver popped to Purdue. Then, a couple days after assuming the Maryland job, they renewed that relationship when Bell convinced head coach D.J. Durkin to extend a scholarship.
Franklin’s reaction? He was ecstatic to the point where he instantly declared he’d be officially visiting Maryland Jan. 22. Franklin hadn’t even spoken to Bell yet -- the prospect’s Wheeler coaches let him know about the offer -- and he was already singing the Terps’ praises.
“I was really, really excited when Maryland offered,” said Franklin, a 6-foot,-1 210-pound senior who can also play running back or H-back. “Coach Bell, he offered me at Arkansas State, and I knew him from that. He let my coaches know [Dec. 22] that Maryland wanted to offer, and then when my coaches told me.
“I was thrilled. I had a great relationship with Coach Bell before. He’s a really great guy, really passionate. I considered Arkansas State because he was there. Just his energy and how he stays in touch with you, that’s one of the reasons I considered [the Howl].”
True, Franklin is committed to Purdue, but he acknowledged it wasn’t a “firm” pledge. The receiver, who officially visited West Lafayette, Ind., Dec. 11, readily admitted he’d be looking around at other schools. Maryland is No. 1 on his list, and he’s contemplating Wake Forest, Tulane and Georgia Southern.
Franklin said he would take “one, maybe two” trips before ending his recruitment. When asked the chances of him committing after the first January official (read: Maryland), the Georgian said, “Pretty good.”
Stay tuned. We like Maryland’s position here.
You can read more about Franklin HERE.
Landan Word, LB, Bishop O’Connell (Arlington, Va.): A longtime UVA commit who pledged to ex-Cavaliers’ head coach and current Maryland defensive line coach Mike London. The Terps offered the three-star linebacker/tight end Word Dec. 22, anticipating the London connection could pay dividends.
But even though Word appreciated UMD headman D.J. Durkin’s overtures, he’s been signed and sealed to the Wahoos since last March. Word is a Virginia legacy who is seeking to follow in his father, Barry Word’s, footsteps in Charlottesville, Va. He didn’t even take any other visits outside of his multiple forays through UVA. On top of that, Word’s gone on record supporting Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall hire.
Needless to say, the odds of the O’Connell product flipping aren’t terrific. Maybe the Maryland staff simply wanted to extend a goodwill offer, ensuring they’ll have an “in” at O’Connell down the road.
MyKelle McDaniel, DE, Grayson (Loganville, Ga.): Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell wasted no time making calls to the high school coaches he knows in Georgia. A day after offering Benaiah Franklin, Bell and head coach D.J. Durkin entered the fray for Mykelle McDaniel, a 6-4, 255-pound edge rusher.
But, according to our Georgia colleagues, McDaniel may have academic issues that could preclude him from qualifying. By our colleague’s estimation, McDaniel could be bound for junior college.
That said, our other connects have suggested otherwise. If McDaniel does meet the NCAA requirements, the Terps mave a solid shot here. Not only has Bell reached out, but so has UMD defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim. McDaniel hasn't returned interview requests yet, but we're led to believe he could be in College Park for an official Jan. 22.
Now, even if the recruit does trek up, Maryland’s staff would conceivably have to do battle several SEC suitors, including South Carolina; Florida; Tennessee; and Mississippi State. He's visited the former three and was originally thought to be favoring the Gators or Gamecocks.
Until we can uncover more details, however, it’s difficult to gauge which of those SEC programs are truly after the Grayson product. We’ll continue to follow the situation to see how it develops. Our guess, though, is Maryland may very well be anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3 in McDaniel's pecking order.
Various 2016 Recruiting Notes
J.J. Givens, S, Atlee (Mechanicsville, Va.): We noted Maryland’s increased interest in Givens last week, and it seems like the Terps have ratcheted up the pursuit even more since then. Despite the dead recruiting period, Givens has had consistent communication with various UMD staff members, from head coach D.J. Durkin; to area recruiter Mike London; to defensive coordinator Scott Shafer; to defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim.
So ardent were the Terps’ overtures that Givens admitted he was practically seeing turtles in his sleep. Unprompted, Maryland was the first school he mentioned when discussing 1) his recently-released favorites list, 2) schools in line for a January official, and 3) staffs who had been in touch the most.
“Maryland is definitely going to be a finalist for me, and they’re very, very high on my list,” said Givens, who visited UMD three times last offseason, ex-headman Randy Edsall doing his part to sell the safety on his program. “There will be a few others there too, but Maryland is definitely going to be there. I love the new coaches, and I’ve been up there a lot for visits. I honestly love it up there. I liked the students there, the environment, the academics and I just got a family feel there. It’s a great place to be.”
On this end, we do believe Maryland is among Givens’ foremost two or three contenders. The Atlee safety also has Michigan State and Clemson firmly on the brain and could officially visit each. Arizona State, UNC, North Carolina, NC State, Wisconsin and South Carolina -- the school he decommitted from Dec. 7 following the coaching shakeup -- round out Givens’ top eight.
The recruit didn’t reveal surefire leaders among that octet, but the feeling is Givens will choose between UMD, MSU or CU on Signing Day.
You can read more about Givens HERE.
The Bullis Quarterback (Potomac, Md.): There are going to be twists and turns, rumors and innuendos, truths and half-truths surrounding the Maryland quarterback pledge leading up to Signing Day.
Last week, we hinted the four-star could be leaning towards flipping to Ohio State, which he officially visited Dec. 11. But now the Bullis signal caller may not be allowed at Columbus, Ohio, even if he wants in.
Word from OSU is that head coach Urban Meyer has grown “disenchanted” with the quarterback for whatever reason. We’ve heard swirling stories regarding exactly what those reasons are, but, in the end, all that matters is the Bullis product probably won’t be a Buckeye -- barring another recruiting twist.
It is possible the Jersey native will explore Alabama and LSU after the New Year, embarking on officials to Tuscaloosa, Ala., and/or Baton Rouge, La. Both have remained in contact, and even though Bama has multiple touted quarterback in tow, we’re told the Bullis prospect hasn’t ruled the Tide or Tigers out yet.
Ultimately, though, the quarterback might be better off sticking with the bird in hand. Maryland offers the four-star his best opportunity to shine soon after arriving on campus. He could potentially become the face of UMD football for three-plus years, something none of his other suitors could guarantee with a straight face.
Plus, new Terps’ offensive coordinator Walt Bell’s shotgun-spread attack would seem to fit the quarterback to a “T.” Once the gunslinger meets Bell firsthand after the New Year, any concerns he has about the offense could be appeased.
And if the Potomac resident and his father are also having a sitdown with the Maryland administration -- as a Terrapin Times message-board poster pointed out and we later confirmed -- well, that would bode well for UMD’s chances at keeping the quarterback around too.
Of course, all of this is conjecture at this point. The Bullis product isn’t granting formal interviews, and most information is coming second-hand. We won’t know what the four-star is truly thinking until he opens up.
But for now Maryland seems to have dodged one bullet in Ohio State. Let’s see if the Terps can tiptoe past two more.
Terrance Davis, OG, DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.): The four-star guard Davis decided to change up his plans a bit. Now, instead of waiting until Signing Day to announce his college intentions, he's doing it Jan. 2 at the Under Armour All-American Game in Orlando, Fla. As expected, Davis will be choosing between the two teams he called his "co-leaders" during our interview with him last week: Maryland and Michigan. For what it's worth, Davis did list Florida among his final three, but the Gators are on the outside looking in.
Many of our local contacts weren't quite sure what to make of Davis' situation, dubbing the DeMatha guard a true "50-50" split. That was our feeling too after speaking to the four star, Davis seemingly torn between the Terps and Wolverines.
But we dug deeper and reached out to our Michigan colleagues, who let us know UM head coach Jim Harbaugh wasn't quite as keen on Davis as originally believed. Turns out the Wolverines' headman wants a tackle to round out his 2016 offensive line crop, and the No. 1 target is Jean Delance (North Mesquite/Mesquite, Texas), a four-star who is down to UM; Texas; and LSU. Many in Wolverine country believe Delance is leaning towards Ann Arbor, the school he officially visited Dec. 11.
If so, then Davis should practically fall into Maryland's lap.
The local guard may choose UMD regardless of what transpires at UM, however. Davis had been in College Park on two consecutive weekends before the dead period, including his official Dec. 11. He easily connected with head coach D.J. Durkin and area recruiter Aazaar Abdul-Rahim; bonded with several current Terps; and had a great time with the other UMD recruit visitors. Aiding the Terps' chances is the fact Davis' two teammates, D.J. Turner and his cousin, LoLo Harrison, are heading to College Park next year. As we've written numerous times, both Stags have Davis' ear.
Under Maryland's previous regime, we were leery about forecasting a nationally-known prospect to College Park as too often some "snag" cropped up to derail the recruitment. But Durkin and his staff aren't known as ace recruiters for nothing. The vibe on this end is Durkin sealed the deal during Davis' official, and now the guard is Maryland's to lose.
We'll find out for sure Jan. 2.
K.J. Gray, S/ATH, St. Peter’s Prep (Jersey City, N.J.): Boston College’s staff has a strict “no visit” policy for its current pledges, and the athlete Gray decided he’d rather journey out than stay committed. The Jersey product ended up decommitting Dec. 21, letting our Scout analysts know he would be considering Rutgers; Maryland; Temple; Pitt; UConn; UMass; and BC.
That’s all well and good, but three of those programs -- UMD, Pitt and Temple -- haven’t even offered yet. Gray is attempting to cull out a Terps’ scholarship, his coaches in communication with UMD headman D.J. Durkin about a possible look.
The Jersey City native has had contact with Terps’ defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, who recruited Gray when the coach was at Syracuse, and line coach Mike London. If the Terps, who project the prospect as a safety, do become involved, Gray would undoubtedly have them among his principal contenders given his rapport with Shafer. The ex-Orange headman hosted Gray a couple times in New York, SU representing one of the St. Peter’s Prep athlete’s first FBS offers.
But, more than likely, UMD won’t jump at Gray unless some of Durkin’s other safety targets fall by the wayside (J.J. Givens, Elijah Daniels, Eric Burrell, etc.). We’re listing Gray as “cool” on the hot board for now.
Keith Simms, LB, Landon (Bethesda, Md.): The four-star linebacker Simms didn’t update his status this week, but let on via his Twitter account that he had pulled an SEC offer from Ole Miss. Whether he entertains the Runnin’ Rebels remains to be seen, but Simms will probably listen to the coaches’ overtures and at least discuss the possibility of officially visiting in January.
There are three open weekends left before Signing Day, so it’s conceivable Simms could use one of them to see University, Miss.
Or, he could bump one of his other contenders. . .
When last we checked, Simms was still inclined to follow through with a UMD official visit following the New Year. But, remember, Simms told us last week he would have to “revaluate” Maryland in the wake of area recruiter Chad Wilt’s departure. He didn’t rule out the Terps given his respect for head coach D.J. Durkin and the coach’s defensive philosophy and previous accomplishments. But Wilt’s departure will make it more difficult for UMD to secure his services.
Virginia Tech, which Simms officially visited Dec. 11, and North Carolina are also at the forefront of his mind. The vibe, sans January officials, is that pre-dead period Blacksburg, Va., expedition resonated with Simms and could have given the Hokies a slight edge.
We’ll see, however, if the Ole Miss offer shakes things up -- for not only Tech, but also Maryland and UNC.
Daniel Thomas, S, Lee School (Montgomery, Ala.): We wrote about the recent safety offeree Thomas a couple weeks back when UMD defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim reached out to the Lee School coaches just after the dead period set in. The 6-0, 190-pounder had been gaining steam among power-five programs after a stellar senior season, and the Terps, along with South Carolina, jumped on the bandwagon.
Thomas already set January officials for Middle Tennessee Jan. 15 and Columbia, S.C., Jan. 29 and was saving the Jan. 22 open weekend for another FBS suitor, hinting it could be Maryland. Well, earlier this week Thomas confirmed he would indeed be flying up to College Park on the 22nd. Thomas said he's looking forward to seeing his cousins, who live near D.C., and then driving over to UMD for his first look at the Terps.
"I've been talking to Coach Aazaar and I think he's a great coach," Thomas said. "And Maryland is in the Big Ten too, so that's a great opportunity for me. I'm excited to get up there."
But it remains to be seen if head coach D.J. Durkin and Co. can fend off the Gamecocks. Not only does USC get last dibs, but Thomas was also noticeably excited about the possibility of competing in the SEC.
The Terps' best chance to pull this off may be for Durkin to win Thomas over before he leaves College Park Jan. 24.
Will Grier, QB, Florida: The redshirt freshman Grier was suspended back in October for a performance-enhancing substance and wouldn’t have been eligible to suit up for UF until halfway through next season. Thus, the 6-2, 200-pounder from Davidson, N.C., elected to transfer from Gainesville, Fla.
In six games in 2015, Grier completed 66 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and three picks, showing plenty of potential. So Grier, who will have to sit out a year due to transfer rules, should receive more than a couple interested suitors in the weeks ahead.
What’s this have to do with the Terps? UMD head coach D.J. Durkin was the point man in Grier’s recruitment when the coach was at Florida. Durkin developed a strong rapport with Grier and knows both he and his family well. And with Maryland in need of quarterbacks, it’s possible Durkin entertains the idea of bringing Grier aboard.
It’s questionable whether Durkin will go after Grier, but the headman will almost assuredly scan the fifth-year ranks in search of a gunslinger who can play as soon as next year. With no truly reliable signal caller on the current roster, and no guarantee the incoming Bullis quarterback will be ready to start (if he does sign with UMD), the Terps will undoubtedly add someone.
Speaking of the Bullis recruit, who officially visited Gainesville earlier, we don’t expect the Gators to reengage him in the wake of the Grier news. Florida still has Treon Harris and Luke Del Rio on its current roster, and a pair of incoming early enrollees in Kyle Trask (Manvel, Texas) and Feleipe Franks (Wakulla/Crawfordville, Fla.).
Off The Board
Parnell Motley, CB, Woodson (Washington, D.C.): The ticking time bomb finally went off Dec. 19. We’d been predicting Motley’s imminent decommitment since the Terps tabbed D.J. Durkin as their next head coach ahead of ex-interim Mike Locksley, who was the D.C. corner’s primary recruiter. Sure, there was a glimmer of hope after Durkin made an in-person pitch -- “[Motley] loved the guy,” according to a Woodson coach -- but once Motley realized Locksley wouldn’t be returning to College Park in any capacity, he elected to reopen his recruitment.
Fact is, Locksley was the only reason Motley chose Maryland to begin with. The three-star readily admitted he “kind of wanted to get away” from home, while he never totally bought into DMV-to-UMD (he didn’t stay in touch with the other 2016 Maryland pledges).
Thus, he ended up popping to Oklahoma Dec. 21, a week after we expected him to do so. Initially, the OU staff rejected Motley’s commitment attempts while in Norman, Okla., for his official visit Dec. 13, the coaches telling Motley to “wait and see.” The Sooners already had two 2016 corners on board and were being “extremely picky” about a third, per our Oklahoma colleagues.
Eventually, the Sooners’ staff did find a hybrid spot for Motley, giving him a Dec. 18 deadline to commit. The D.C. corner let the cutoff date come and go with nary a word, but OU’s coaches accepted his late pop anyway.
Motley probably realized he didn’t have any other firm offers besides the hometown school and Oklahoma, as neither Wisconsin nor Michigan State were willing to take his pledge. Thus, he opted to join his teammate Abdul Adams in Sooners’ country.
Rahshaun Smith, DE, IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.): As expected, the four-star defensive end and Baltimore native Rahshaun Smith eliminated Maryland from his favorites list after ex-UMD Director of Player Personnel Cory Robinson’s departure for Toledo. Although Smith would have liked to play his college ball near home, and although he said a university’s business school would play a significant role in his decision (remember, in recruiting academics are always important … until they aren’t), it was Robinson who served as the bridge between the defensive end and College Park. Robinson coached and trained the defensive end at four different stops -- Calvert Hall (Towson, Md.), St. Frances (Baltimore, Md.), IMG Academy and with Next Level Nation -- and the two developed a brother-like bond.
But Robinson’s out, so now Smith is down to three teams with the nickname Tigers: Clemson, LSU and Auburn. CU, the program Smith originally popped to, has been the favorite for some time now. They were the last school to host Smith for an official, and the four-star loved the Death Valley vibe; head coach Dabo Swinney and Co.; and the environment in South Carolina.
Unless LSU makes a late charge, Smith will likely select Clemson at the Under Armour All-American game.
Dontye Carriere-Williams, CB, St. Thomas Aquinas (Miami, Fla.): We placed Carriere-Williams on the hot board after the Terps offered last week, the corner stating he wanted to officially visit College Park in January. But we promptly removed him six days later when the Miami native popped to the heavily-favored Badgers.
Yes, even as Carriere-Williams was talking up the Terps; cornerback Will Likely; the Under Armour connection; and coaches D.J. Durkin and Aazaar Abdu-Rahim, he was also hyping Wisconsin. Carriere-Williams even admitted that “Wisconsin is the leader for sure” during our interview. The Florida corner took an official to Madison, Wis., Dec. 11 and left raving about the campus atmosphere; head coach Paul Chryst; and the general environment surrounding the program.
We thought Carriere-Williams might give Maryland a shot, but that’s not going to happen now. The ex-Cincinnati pledge is all about the Badgers and should be signing with them in February.
The Walt Bell Influence
Maryland finally has its offensive coordinator, and many college football insiders believe head coach D.J. Durkin is bringing in one the nation’s up-and-coming offensive minds. At Arkansas State the last two seasons, Walt Bell’s attacks have ranked among the top 40 in the country, averaging 477 yards per game during his first year and more than 450 in 2015. This season, the Howl scored 41 points a night, putting them 10th nationally.
Even before arriving in Jonesboro, Ark., Bell, who is from Dickson, Tenn., showed flashes of brilliance during two years as tight ends coach at North Carolina. He had a direct hand in the Tar Heels’ play calling, his fingers on an offense that rolled up close to 440 yards per. (Bell also helped develop tight end Eric Ebron).
Bell’s versatile, multiple-look offenses typically feature a quarterback in the shotgun or the pistol formation; a single back; and three to four receivers. The tight end is involved too, although Bell favors pass catchers over blockers (think Ebron).
In general, the offense is an up-tempo, spread attack predicated on post-corners; deep crosses; slants; misdirection; stretch plays; designed roll-outs; and play-action. A multitude of receivers and runners rotate through to keep bodies fresh and the offense humming at a rapid rate.
Note that Bell will take his share of shots down the field, a high-risk, high-reward gambler who shies away from “safe plays.” Ideally, Bell would like to feature a balanced run-pass attack, although he’ll adapt to the talent he has. This year, for example, Bell had a Wildcat quarterback who lacked arm strength and field vision. Thus, the Howl rolled the signal caller out and used much more zone-read than Bell typically would employ.
“Regardless of what type of offense he’s running, know that Walt is going to relentlessly prepare,” said Arkansas State’s Scout.com writer, Mark Ferguson. “The walls in his office will be covered in blackboards as he designs plays and develops knew ideas. He’s diagramming all the time. He’s intense, focused, and the only thing he’s interested in outside of football is MMA and UFC.
“Walt is a young bull. He goes with the most explosive play for the situation. That gets you on the board a lot, but it also means a lot of fast drives producing nothing other than putting the defense back out there. If he learns to put more value on first downs (pass up calling the 55-percent chance for 20 [yards] play for the 90-percent chance 5-yard play when the defense needs a break) he is going to be a superstar like [Gus] Malzahn and [Chad] Morris were as offensive coordinators.”
On the recruiting trail, Ferguson described Bell as “one of the best there is . . . and that’s not hyperbole.” Bell may not have been the primary point-man for many of Arkansas State’s pledges the last two seasons, but he closed the deal on most every offensive recruit the Howl landed.
“Walt gets after it. He’s got that magic touch in recruiting,” Ferguson said. “I know UNC was ticked when they lost him, and it’s going to be a big blow for Arkansas State too. This guy is not only a super-nice guy who relates well to kids, but his knowledge; passion; and energy definitely come across. He’s high energy, but not to the point where he’s phony. The kids love him.”
Bell has footprints all over the country, although some of his primary-recruiting areas are his home state, Tennessee; Alabama; Atlanta, Ga.; Northern Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and other locales throughout the south. While Bell wasn’t able to pry away recruits from Big 12 schools at Arkansas State, he did have the Howl involved with numerous four- and five-star targets. Per Ferguson, Bell wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with the big boys for top talents, even if the chances were slim.
Note: Mark Ferguson also informed us that two more Arkansas State staffers could follow Bell to College Park. First is receivers’ coach Luke Paschall, whom is “like a brother” to Bell, according to Ferguson. The other is Kyle Cefalo, a graduate assistant who could potentially be a quality-control guy at UMD.
Also, if you didn't see the full interview with Bell courtesy of our Scout.com Arkansas State site, check it out HERE.
The Pete Lembo Influence
D.J. Durkin added yet another former head coach to his staff Dec. 22 when Pete Lembo stepped down at Ball State and accepted the special teams/associate head coach spot at Maryland.
Lembo spent five years in Muncie, Ind., compiling a 33-29 record and leading the Cardinals to a pair of bowl games. The Staten Island, N.Y., native set over 60 school records at Ball State; saw his special teams units finish among the top-three in the MAC during each of his five years; and in 2013 was named to the National Coach Of The Year Award Watch List.
In terms of recruiting, Lembo recently scoured the Midwest, including Indiana; Illinois; and Ohio. But he also has connections up and down the eastern seaboard from the six years he spent at Elon.
“Lembo really tried to branch out, so not only did he recruit the Midwest, but he has a strong foothold in North Carolina and South Carolina,” said Andy Thorpe, Scout.com’s Ball State insider. “He has ties throughout the southeast, and since he’s from New York he can go into the northeast too. But his strongest areas are definitely Indiana and Illinois, along with North and South Carolina.”
Lembo’s recruiting classes haven’t ranked among the MAC’s upper-tier of late, but the Cardinals’ scarce resources (the main reason he bolted Muncie) limited what he could do. During his first couple years in Muncie, Thorpe suggested Lembo consistently recruited well against Indiana and Purdue for in-state prospects, landing a handful of three-star athletes.
“When you look at the state of the Ball State program, Lembo actually did a phenomenal job,” Thorpe said. “Trying to maintain [recruiting] at a high-level in the MAC when you don’t have consistent support is hard, but Lembo held his own.”
Per Thorpe, Lembo is a positive, down-to-earth and approachable individual who players respected. He’s also detail-oriented, high-character, driven and demanding -- more of a role model or authority figure than a buddy-buddy type.
“He’s one of those father-figure coaches,” Thorpe said. “He’s a nuts-and-bolts guy and a straight shooter. He won’t tell you that you’re going to come in and play right away. He wants kids to work their butts off. His philosophy was, ‘We’re going to recruit you, then we’re going to redshirt you, and you’re going to work and grow.
“I’m sure it will be different at Maryland, but at Ball State that was his philosophy. And, you know, kids grabbed ahold of that and respected that. He also got along very well with parents, who really bought in too.”
More than likely, Lembo will be asked to identify scholarship-worthy specialists throughout the country. (“There’s a reason Ball State was known as ‘Punter U,’” laughed Thorpe). Lembo will also probably assume some of former-UMD assistant Chad Wilt’s territories, Indiana and Illinois, in addition to the Carolinas.
Recruits Terps Parted Ways With
When D.J. Durkin assumed the Maryland job Dec. 2, many readers asked if he would A) keep the Randy Edsall-constructed 2016 class intact, or B) start pulling offers. Originally, we didn’t think Durkin would rock the boat so as not to generate ill-will during his first couple months on the job. Typically, that’s how it plays out with coaching changes, the new headman doing his best to keep the prior class in-tact.
But Maryland was a special case. As TT readers are aware, my scouting reports suggested several of the Terps’ 2016 pledges were “reaches” and probably would have more success at the FCS level anyway.
Apparently Durkin concurred. After consulting the film, he couldn’t justify honoring their scholarships -- perception be damned.
With numerous new defensive back targets now on the radar, Durkin parted ways with safety Devin Butler (Douglass (Upper Marlboro, Md.), cornerback Tyrone Hill (Bosco/Ramsey, N.J.) and safety Mike Viti (Camp Hill, Pa.). None of them had any other committable FBS options besides Maryland, so this was not a surprising development. (Publicly they decommitted, but it was just a matter of semantics).
In addition to the above trio, receiver Evan Fairs (Foster/Richmond, Texas) is gone as well, even if he doesn’t realize it yet. Fairs last spoke to a UMD coach more than two weeks ago when, of all people, ex-UMD assistant Chad Wilt contacted him. Which struck us as odd considering Keenan McCardell was Fairs’ area recruiter. Either way, Fairs hasn’t heard from D.J. Durkin or any current Maryland offensive coaches recently.
Safety Silas Kelly (South Carroll) has not touched base with Maryland’s new coaches either. Kelly didn’t respond to inquiries this week, but his coach confirmed UMD’s staff had moved on. He’s been removed from the commitment list.
Another recruit, greyshirt tackle Alex Hall (Louisville, Ohio), has yet to communicate with the staff and has basically been off the board since Durkin gained control.
Expect the Terps to part ways with one or two other “questionable recruits” after the holidays end. Here’s where the rest of Maryland’s original 2016 commits stands heading into Christmas:
-- Tackle Terek Zingale (Nordonia/Macedonia, Ohio) said he spoke to Durkin earlier and is set for his UMD official visit in January. We believe Zingale will be part of Maryland’s incoming class.
-- Tackle Michael Clark (Downingtown East/Exton, Pa.) has had contact with UMD defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, and the recruit said he’s “100 percent ready to go” with Maryland. He’ll be officially visiting College Park after the New Year and should be a Terp on Signing Day.
-- Tackle Brian Plummer (South Carroll/Sykesville, Md.) said, as far as he knows, “I’m good with Maryland.” Plummer visited UMD unofficially Dec. 12 and met with Durkin, who apparently told the Carroll County product there was a spot for him in the program. Let’s see if that’s the case on Signing Day.
-- Defensive end Joey Fisher (Clear Spring, Md.) chatted with defensive line coach Mike London Dec. 16, but hasn’t heard from the head coach, Durkin, or anyone else since. For now, he’s scheduled for a January official, but we’ll see if his status changes. He could be removed from the hot board at any time.
Yes, there will be a few grumblings and some initial backlash. Roman Morris, a renowned area trainer, expressed his discontent when the Mike Viti news trickled out. And Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco’s coaches were unhappy about Tyrone Hill.
But it’s not as if Durkin is ticking off any major DMV power brokers like DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.), Good Counsel (Olney, Md.), Gilman (Baltimore, Md.) or the like. (Heck, he just offered Gilman head coach Biff Poggi a staff position). He’s doing his best to keep the core DMV recruits – The Bullis quarterback, LoLo Harrison (DeMatha), Jake Funk (Damascus, Md.), KeAndre Jones (Good Counsel), Travon Stott (Good Counsel), D.J. Turner (DeMatha), Tino Ellis (DeMatha) – in the fold. Durkin has visited all of the above, some on multiple occasions, and spoken to their families. Meanwhile, Harrison, Funk, Jones, Turner and Stott were all in College Park for their official visits Dec. 11, giving Durkin another occasion to sell them on his vision. (Ellis and the Bullis recruit are due at College Park after the New Year.)
With the latter in mind, and given Durkin’s personality and drive to win over local coaches, we don’t believe the reneged scholarships will have lasting negative ramifications.