Even as he kept his feelings close to the vest, and even as he scheduled post-New Year trips to the likes of Blacksburg, Va., Pittsburgh, Pa., and other locales, it was clear the University of Maryland had the inside track on Kofi Wardlow (St. John’s/Washington, D.C.). The 6-foot-3, 225-pound three-star defensive end/outside linebacker has had a deep affinity for his hometown school for years, and it only intensified when UMD-area recruiter Aazaar Abdul-Rahim let Wardlow know he had a scholarship to Maryland Oct. 23.
Almost two months later, Wardlow opted not to delay his inevitable decision any longer, instead ending his recruitment pre-Christmas with an anticipated announcement for Maryland Dec. 17.
“To tell you the truth, things just felt right. I talked to my parents and I just got that feeling,” said Wardlow, who insisted he would not be taking any other visits in January. “Maryland has something special going on, and I like it there. I like the players they’re recruiting, I like my area recruiter [Aazaar Abdul-Rahim], and I like the whole staff. I like the school a lot and I can’t wait to get going there.
“Honestly, I’ve known Maryland was my school for awhile. I wanted to have fun with it, so I took some other officials and looked at some other schools. But Maryland is always where I wanted to be.”
Truth be told, Wardlow has long been infatuated with the hometown Terps -- even before Abdul-Rahim and Co. began pressing for him. He’d visited the campus several times with teammates Cam Spence and Kasim Hill, who are both 2017 UMD pledges. Wardlow loved being around the program, had seen the construction of the new facility upgrades, and had met the Maryland coaches during treks through College Park last summer. He also knew a few players on the team, who let on how much they liked what was going on with the athletic program.
Moreover, Wardlow already knew of UMD’s academic reputation and the various degrees it offered from his basic knowledge of the school.
Thus, when the offer, which was the first of the power-five variety, finally came to fruition around Halloween, the Terps became a clear frontrunner.
“I’m really, really happy right now. This opportunity, for my family to see me play and with [teammates] Cam Spence and Kasim Hill already going there, I can’t say enough about what this means,” Wardlow said at the time. “I can play for my hometown school in front of the hometown fans, and that’s just a blessing.
"I'm pretty settled. I don't have anything else set up. Maryland just felt right, and i talked it over with my family, and they agreed. Just the advantages of going to Maryland, in terms of football and academics, I couldn't turn that down."
Wardlow dialed back his effusive praise as other suitors came in, but Maryland was always foremost on his mind. Even when Michigan State’s staff, which Wardlow officially visited Dec. 2, hyped it’s defensive reputation and had renowned defense mastermind Mark D’Antonio at the helm; and even as Va Tech, with it’s well-known defense led by coordinator Bud Foster, came calling; and even as staffs from Pitt and Boston College made overtures; it was always Maryland for Wardlow.
“There’s a lot of positives going on at Maryland, a lot of good things going on there. It’s a school I like a lot,” Wardlow said. “Coach Aazaar [Abdul-Rahim], Coach [Mike] London, Coach [Marcus] Berry, Coach [D.J.] Durkin – all of them. Like, whole staff at Maryland talks to me and wants me, so it’s like all of them are recruiting me. I have a great relationship with all those guys. They said Maryland is going to be doing really well in the next few years with the guys they’re bringing in, and they want me to be part of that.”
The likes of Abdul-Rahim and London sealed Wardlow in, the pair doing their best to present the recruit and his family everything UMD had to offer. On top of that, Durkin made his pitch as well, impressing Wardlow and his family.
The Wardlows met the Maryland staff a few times, but Dec. 9 the three-star and his folks officially visited UMD, giving them even deeper insight into the coaches and the program.
“Coach London has a really good background and he told me what he expects and how he’d use me,” Wardlow said. “I had some question about his BUCKs, like their size and weight, and learned more about the position. I definitely think I fit [the BUCK spot] well. I always considered myself a hybrid; I have the body and speed for it. But Coach London didn’t just talk about football. He wanted to learn more about me, though, kind of like an interview. So we learned more about each other.
“Coach Aazaar, he’s another great guy and we’re building a relationship. I really like him and relate to him well. And Coach Durkin, he told me about his mission statement, and I was really impressed with that. He’s living up to it so far. He came in in December and really changed the whole program around, and I’ve seen a lot of improvement just in the last few months.”
The rest of the official only made Wardlow feel even more comfortable around the team. He loved hanging out with the current Terps, the other commits and his teammates heading to UMD.
“I had a lot of fun with the commits there and my teammates Cam Spence and Kasim Hill. It was cool being around all the people that are going to be [at Maryland],” Wardlow said. “Just hanging out with the others players, that was my favorite part. I wanted to see how well I jelled with those guys, and I had a great time and felt very comfortable.
"And just being around Cam, Kasim and the other guys, those are my brothers man, those are my brothers. Who wouldn't want to play with them?"
Wardlow’s player host was Melvin Keihn, and the recruit said the Terps’ BUCK linebacker showed him a great time and did well answering all his questions.
“Talking to Melvin was good, and he was telling me about staying home and all the good things about Maryland,” Wardlow said. “We had a lot of fun, and I enjoyed being around all those guys. They seem to really like it at Maryland and had all great things to say about the coaches.”
The SJC end lauded the family-like vibe in College Park and how much emphasis the program places on both athletics and academics. He’s considering majoring in engineering and likes UMD’s program in that field.
“The engineering program is great at Maryland, and the support system is great as well,” Wardlow said. “That’s what I want in a school -- a balance between football and academics.
“And Coach London had me sit down in the meeting room and we watched the whole video and rundown of how awesome and ridiculous this new facility will be. I was really impressed with that. Then I saw the varsity dorms and those are really good, and the campus is great too.”
During the fall, Wardlow elected to attend multiple Maryland games, including those against Ohio State, Michigan, Rutgers, Purdue and others. He was in College Park on a routine basis and became familiar with the atmosphere around the program, the fans, and what the coaches represented.
“It’s clear Maryland is taking a step in the right direction and Coach Durkin has them moving up. I like what Maryland’s doing, and now they’re going to a bowl game,” Wardlow said. “And I was watching the defensive line and the BUCK position during the game, and just how they were being used. Coach Aazaar, he told me they really needs BUCKs and people who can pressure the quarterback. And that’s what I saw; they need guys who can rush the passer. That’s one of the main things I noticed. They have linebackers who can drop and they have guys who can cover in the secondary, but they need more pass rushers.”
Following the fall, the Maryland staff stayed on Wardlow to ensure his mind remained on the turtles. Abdul-Rahim trekked through St. John’s a couple times, while Mike London and D.J. Durkin went in-home with the three-star. Their persistent overtures not only resonated with the recruit, but they hit home with his family as well.
“My parents were supportive of whatever I decided, but they were very impressed with Maryland and what the coaches showed them,” Wardlow said. “They like Maryland a lot and are very comfortable with me there. They feel like Maryland is an up-and-coming program in the Big Ten and a great school [academically].”
Granted, Wardlow originally said he still like to see Va Tech in January, along with maybe Pitt or BC, but he said he’s sold on Maryland and backed off that statement. The St. John’s product said he’s 100 percent committed and ready to join the hometown school.
Now that Wardlow’s on board, he figures to step right into the BUCK role for Maryland. He’s an athletic, agile lineman who can get down the field and make plays in space. Wasdlow is loose, flexible and can change directions on a dime, allowing him to make tackles all over. Wardlow is sudden, explosive and has plus-closing speed. He wraps up, takes tight angles to the ball, and doesn’t allow leaky yardage. His footwork is nifty, his rush moves are on-point, and his awareness is above-average.
To improve, Wardlow needs more strength and point-of-attack power he needed. He must strike harder, make sure he gains extension and varies his rush moves. He also has so shore up his fundamentals as a drop-back end and when in pursuit.
But Wardlow has plenty of upside and figures to be an early contribute at UMD.
“The thing is I’m really flexible and I have that motor,” said Wardlow, who recorded nine sacks this season. “I never give up on a play. I have a lot of flaws, for sure, like my hand placement and just learning more about my position. But my strength is I’m quick; athletic and I go 100 percent. I’m going to get there.
“When I get o Maryland, I’m going to be a playmaker.”