When Lackawanna (Scranton, Pa.) junior-college cornerback Alex Woods first heard from University of Maryland defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim Sept. 7, the Terps immediately grabbed his attention. Even though Woods considered himself a firm West Virginia pledge at the time, he couldn’t deny Abdul-Rahim’s pitch held prime appeal.
“When you look at the depth Maryland has in the secondary, and the guys they have in the program and coming back, there’s an opportunity there,” said the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Woods. “Coach Rahim said I have a fighting chance to come in and play. With me being a JUCO guy, and getting there in January, I’ll have a chance to step right in and play in spring ball. So when you hear that, and compare it to some other schools, it’s a great opportunity for me.”
Woods ended up taking Abdul-Rahim up on that opportunity Dec. 4, when he committed to the Terps after his College Park, Md., official visit. But the North Carolina native, who prepped at Hillside School (Durham, N.C.), knew he wanted in at UMD well in advance of his official.
“I had actually been thinking about committing for weeks now. I was actually going to flip to Maryland from West Virginia, but I just decided to go through the process of decommitting and then taking the official,” Woods said. “The timeframe worked out where I could go through it all, but really I knew I was going to Maryland for a good while now.
“Basically, even without seeing a game there, I knew it’s where I wanted to be. You can tell Coach [D.J.] Durkin is making changes in the program and has it on the rise. They have everything I was looking for in a school – a great DB coach, a great head coach, an opportunity to play, and a great education. And it’s only like four hours from my home, so that’s not so bad. It was plusses in every area.”
Indeed, it was that three-plus month relationship with Abdul-Rahim that had Woods convinced. Add in an assist from area recruiter Pete Lembo and head coach D.J. Durkin, and the corner didn’t need much coaxing.
“Coach Rahim’s experience at coaching DBs, and just looking at some of the guys he even helped back when he was at Friendship [Collegiate Academy in Washington, D.C.], you can tell he knows what he’s going. He’s so smart, and he knows the position so well. He was showing me exactly what I could do in the Maryland system, and it was very detailed. I definitely vibed with him and took to him so well. Also, I know he going to be real with you and 100 with you at all times. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything,” Woods said. “And Coach Lembo, he’s a great guy too and great to talk to. I appreciated how well he treated me and my mother.
“It was the same with Coach Durkin. You can tell he’s creating a great environment there, and it’s a family environment too. My mother really liked that about the Maryland coaches, and they made us feel comfortable there.”
Woods had similar comments for the Maryland players. He lauded his host, linebacker Melvin Keihn, and the rest of the Terps he hung out with Dec. 2-4.
“You can tell, just from talking to the players, that they want to come in and play well for the coaches at Maryland. You can tell they want to make a change,” Woods said. “Just from the way they were talking, and then I got to watch a practice and I could see [their enthusiasm] in how they practiced. A lot of programs, you don’t see that kind of inspired play. You can tell not everyone is into it. But at Maryland, everyone looked like they wanted to be there, they wanted to win, and they wanted to be ready for the bowl game. So that was a big thing for me too.”
The Durham native made sure to mention the educational benefits of Maryland as well. He had a chance to tour Washington, D.C., and meet several academic advisors, the corner readily impressed with UMD’s support system and various opportunities in D.C.
“The education was really key. The internships there, and also the tutors and how they guide you there, that was big,” Woods said. “Even though I’m a JUCO guy, I see the opportunities Maryland can give me, and they can definitely help me be successful outside of football.”
Woods, who also considered hometown East Carolina but elected not to officially visit the Pirates, will have two years of eligibility remaining once he arrives in College Park in January. He actually did not play this season for Lackawanna due to a torn labrum suffered during fall camp, but said he’s healthy and eager to start his career at Maryland.
“I consider myself a very smart corner. My brother played quarterback, and I also player quarterback my freshman year, so that helped me see the field better and see the [corner] position from a different aspect,” Woods said. “I am very good with my technique, I’m quick on my feet, and I’m a long, rangy guy at 6-2. And I definitely work to get better in every area.
“One of the things the Maryland coaches said about me is that they were only going to take one JUCO guy, and they wanted it to be someone who brought leadership to the table. And that’s definitely me. They expect that of me, and that’s what I bring. I’m definitely going to come in and make an impact.”