Welcome to our next edition of Inside the Shell, the weekly Maryland football-recruiting roundup.
Running Down The Hot Board
Signing Day is still more than a month off, but here’s how Maryland’s 2017 recruiting class is shaping up as the date nears. In bold are the currently committed prospects, while we’ve included our own personal projections for the remaining targets.
Anthony McFarland: Maryland
Calvin Ashley: Auburn
Jalen McKenzie: Utah
Bryce Brand (Early Enrollee)
Tyree Johnson: Texas A&M
Nick Underwood (EE)
Ellis Brooks: Maryland
Louis Acceus: Virginia Tech
Markquese Bell: Maryland (EE)
Naytron Culpepper: Maryland
Jon Lovett: Iowa
Deon Jones (EE)
Fofie Bazzie (EE)
Alex Woods (EE)
Tariq Castro-Fields: Penn State
O.J. Tucker: Wake Forest (changes to Maryland if Newsome flips)
Tancey Richardson: Colorado State (changes to Maryland if Newsome flips and O.J. Tucker heads to Wake or UCF)
If the above holds true, that’s 28 current commits and four or five more projected to Maryland (including one early enrollee), for a total of 32 or 33 signees in the 2017 class. Five of those commitment are early enrollees, so they will not count against the ’17 class, bringing this year’s total to 23 and a projected 27 or 28.
To make the scholarship numbers work, the Maryland staff could elect to greyshirt one or two incoming recruits. Or, more than likely, they’ll bank on more attrition from the current squad, with a few in the program expected to transfer out. Thus, we’re not so much worried about the 85-man scholarship limit; the situation should work itself out organically.
Note: Although cornerback Dazz Newsome (Hampton, Va.) has said he’s “150 percent committed” to Maryland, he has yet to cancel his January Va Tech official, and North Carolina is in the game as well. We remain skeptical of Newsome’s status, and the Hokies’ coaches may be able to flip the legacy recruit should Newsome follow through with the trip to Blacksburg, Va. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, were a program Newsome admitted held primary appeal before he popped to UMD.
Notes Part II: We still like Maryland’s position with Calvin Ashley (St. John’s/Washington, D.C.), but our gut is the Auburn staff’s persistent overtures post-UMD official, coupled with the fact the five-star still intends to see AU officially in January, could seal him to the Eagles.
If that’s the case, we think the Terps’ staff has a solid shot at pulling tackle Jalen McKenzie (Clayton Valley/Concord, Calif.), who for now we’ve projected to Utah. McKenzie is unlikely to land coveted offers from Michigan and USC, leaving the Utes and Terps as his two main suitors.
Notes Part III: If Ohio State’s staff finds room for Markquese Bell (Bridgeton, N.J.) Jan. 1 and the recruit opts in, or if Ellis Brooks (Benedictine/Richmond, Va.) turns towards Northwestern after officially visiting in January, then Louis Acceus’ (discussed below) projection changes from Va Tech to Maryland. But if Bell and Brooks head to Maryland as anticipated, there might not be room at the inn for Acceus.
Notes Part IV: Jon Lovett’s (Cherokee/Marlton, N.J.) projection could change to Maryland if Naytron Culpepper (discussed below), the Terps’ staff’s No. 1 safety option, heads elsewhere. But Lovett does have a strong affinity for Iowa, whose staff wants him at running back, and the three-star just added an offer from Tennessee. It’s unclear where the Vols stand after coming in late, but it’s possible Lovett could officially visit Rocky Top in January.
Basically, even if UMD’s coaches can’t pull Culpepper, there’s no guarantee their second option would come either. True, Lovett is supposed to officially visit College Park at some point after the New Year, but we’ll see if he follows through.
Wardlow On Board
When scholarships are short and space limited, squeeze plays are in vogue, and that’s basically what happened with Kofi Wardlow (St. John’s/Washington, D.C.) Dec. 17. The 6-foot-3, 227-pound BUCK heard fellow BUCK Bryce Brand (discussed below) had joined the Terps, so Wardlow opted to forego his January officials to Pitt, Virginia Tech and BC and pop to the hometown school.
“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.”
There were reasons aplenty why Wardlow wanted in at Maryland. First and foremost, the Terps’ staff was the first power-five program to ante up, which Wardlow always appreciated. He developed a tight rapport with UMD-area recruiter Aazaar Abdul-Rahim off the bat, and later came to know position coach Mike London and head coach D.J. Durkin quite well too.
Wardlow also had two St. John’s teammates and Terps’ pledges, Cam Spence and Kasim Hill, in his ear about joining UMD. Even though the SJC prospect insisted he wouldn’t be influenced by other recruits’ decisions, he did admit the chance to continue his career with Spence and Hill intrigued him. Plus, Wardlow was always keen on the hometown movement and being close enough so his parents could see him play regularly.
Wardlow went on to describe how much he liked Maryland’s defense and his role as a versatile BUCK; how easily he bonded with the current Terps; the fan/community atmosphere in College Park; and how excited he was for the new facility upgrades. The school’s academic reputation can’t be discounted either, with Wardlow seeking to enter the engineering program.
Now, Wardlow did take an official to Michigan State and seemed to have solid interest in Va Tech, but he was the Terps’ to lose since the coaches offered in October. And to the staff’s credit, they closed the deal before the holidays.
What are the Terps getting in the defensive end/outside linebacker?
A freakishly athletic former hoops star, who can make plays down the line; in space; and up the field. Wardlow’s loose, flexible, nimble and quick. He has a fast first step, can explode into backfields and closes well. The three-star ably diagnoses, wraps up, and allows little to no leaky yardage.
To get even better, Wardlow has to add more strength and point-of-attack power. He sometimes comes off the ball high and can get stood up, while he’ll sometimes get caught in the trash. Wardlow must keep developing his hand placement, his rush moves and his drops as well.
It might take Wardlow a year to acclimate himself to the BUCK role, but we expect him to be a significant contributor for three years in College Park. He has the upside of a potential all-conference performer.
You can read what his coach had to say about him HERE.
Brands On Board
That’s how you play the recruiting game.
The Terps convinced three-star BUCK target Bryce Brand (Clayton Valley/Clayton, Calif.) to flip from nearby Arizona by virtue of accepting the recruit’s older brother, Ryan Brand (San Mateo College/San Mateo, Calif.), as a preferred walk-on. Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin went in-home with the pair right before the dead period began and sold them on the idea of reuniting in College Park.
Ryan Brand, for his part, is a 5-9 dual-threat quarterback, who was a three-star and former Elite 11prospect coming out of Detroit Jesuit (Mich.) in the 2015 class. He ended up signing with Air Force, but last spring decided to leave the Academy.
Ryan Brand attended San Mateo for a semester, playing five games this season.
The Terps’ coaches liked his skills and decided to pursue him as a walk-on. The quarterback didn’t have any other power-five options, so Maryland immediately became his foremost contender.
Shortly after Ryan Brand was offered a spot, Bryce Brand followed suit, committing to UMD Dec. 17. The 6-1, 235-pounder did want the chance to play with his brother in college, although that’s hardly the only reason the three-star opted to flip. Brand officially visited College Park Dec. 9 and lauded his 48-hour stay.
The Michigan native said he could tell head coach D.J. Durkin was doing something special in College Park and the Terps were on the rise. Furthermore, Brand instantly connected with position coach Mike London, defensive coordinator Andy Buh, and assistant Chris Beatty, who handled the recruitment. Brand liked the idea of playing the BUCK role too, noting how Durkin sold him on the idea of “being another Dante Fowler.”
Additionally, Brand readily bonded with the players and host Adam McLean. Brand said the current Terps spoke very highly of the staff and treated him like family. If that weren’t enough, Brand loved the College Park area and the internship/business opportunities in Washington, D.C. He called the academics “top notch” and knows he’ll get a great degree from UMD.
So, what does Bryce Brand bring to the table?
Brand’s a fierce edge rusher who can bust up a backfield. He has a quick first step, violent hands and packs a punch at the point of attack. He has advanced moves too, allowing him to slice inside a tackle; come around backside; or deke his man and throw him off-balance. Brand understands leverage and knows how to duck his shoulder and get underneath an offensive lineman.
The former IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) recruit is agile enough to make plays in space and track runners down from behind as well. Meanwhile, Brand disengages well and does a good job maneuvering up and down the line.
The main concern with Brand is his size. If he were a couple inches taller, he’d probably be a 20-plus offer prospect. Also, he has to make sure he comes off the ball lower as sometimes he plays high. Brand does have some hip stiffness and may not be a great cover-man right now, but he’s adequate enough.
As for Ryan Brand, he’s not your everyday walk-on quarterback. Brand’s a decent enough signal caller who can spray the ball around in the short- to intermediate range. Brand has good touch, allows his receivers to make plays, and typically hits his targets in stride. He’s heady, doesn’t make poor decisions and reads defenses well. To boot, Brand has solid speed and can make plays with his feet, showing the ability to create yards and break a tackle or two.
Granted, Brand is barely 5-10, so his height is a concern. Plus, he doesn’t have terrific arm strength and won’t stretch defenses down the field. Brand isn’t going to beat himself with turnovers, but he’s not the type of quarterback who will force defensive coordinators to play extra defensive backs or keep multiple safeties deep.
You can read more about the Brands HERE.
More Recruiting News
Anthony McFarland, RB, DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.): We remain encouraged by Maryland’s position with McFarland, but Alabama may not be out yet. After missing two previous opportunities to check out Tuscaloosa, Ala., McFarland now intends to make the trek Jan. 13. It’s still unclear if McFarland’s a definite “take” for head coach Nick Saban (our gut is he’s not), but there must be some interest if the DeMatha back wants to see the Tide. And if Saban does indeed push for a pop during said trip, well, McFarland might just grab the spot.
We’ll have to see where both sides stand closer to that Jan. 13 date, however. Much can change between now and then, and if McFarland doesn’t sense he’s a priority, he might not take the trip at all.
If not, then it’s back to Maryland and Miami, with the Terps perhaps holding a slight edge.
McFarland visited UMD on back-to-back weekends Dec. 3 and Dec. 10, an indication of his Terps’ affinity. The four-star’s relationship with the Maryland staff and the other DMV recruits/commits has been well-documented, as has his interest in the hometown movement and helping build the local school into a winner. McFarland also likes his potential role in the Terps’ offense and knows he’d have a chance to play right away.
Miami, meanwhile, is in there due to McFarland’s close bonds with the Hurricanes’ coaches and the recruit’s stellar Coral Gables, Fla., official visit. We continue to hear there are several folks close to the DeMatha back who would love to see him head south.
But, again, Maryland may have the upper-hand at this juncture; it’s Bama that’s making us a bit leery.
Eyabi Anoma, DE, St. Frances (Baltimore, Md.) (2018): Anoma is a fast-riser in the 2018 class and will be a borderline five-star in short order. I decided to check in with him last week after his basketball game, the 6-5, 225-pounder letting on his affinity for hometown Maryland.
The Terps, with assistant Mike London leading the recruitment, offered early during Anoma’s 2016 campaign once it became evident the lifetime basketball player’s length and athleticism translated to the gridiron.
“I like Maryland a lot. It’s the hometown school and I like what they’re doing there,” said Anoma, the teammate of 2017 UMD signee B’ahmad Miller, who the budding junior counts as a mentor and close friend. “I feel like a couple years down the line they could be national championship contenders. And to experience something like that with ‘B,’ [Miller] that would be pretty cool.”
Anoma proceeded to praise London and head coach D.J. Durkin, both of whom the Randallstown resident has met personally. The edge rusher has taken a liking to each and believes they could help develop his game.
Anoma has been in College Park a couple times as well, most recently for the Terps’ game against Purdue. He praised the fan atmosphere, facilities and the coming upgrades.
But while UMD has an early bead, Anoma is just beginning to scratch the surface of his possible suitors. Penn State, Syracuse, WVU, UConn, UCLA and Pitt have all anted up, but Anoma is receiving interest from schools throughout the Big Ten; ACC; and even the SEC. It’s possible he’ll have his pick of schools after the spring evaluation period.
So far, Anoma has only been to UMD and Pitt, but he’ll take multiple trips this offseason. He wants to see UCLA, Florida State, LSU and several more in the Big Ten and ACC.
It’s too soon to prognosticate here, but it sounds like Maryland is going to be involved throughout with Anoma. Look for him to return to College Park this winter.
You can read more about Anoma HERE.
Louis Acceus, OLB, St. Joseph Regional (Montvale, N.J.): Nothing has really changed with Acceus since we updated him in early December, except he told me as of Dec. 21 his Maryland official was set for Jan. 27.
One can look at that date in two different ways. One, if Acceus follows through, it would give the Terps last dibs, which is always an enviable position to be in. Maryland’s staff would conceivably be able to convince the Jersey recruit College Park was indeed the best fit and then secure his commitment shortly thereafter Feb. 1.
But another way to look at it is this: Acceus’ spot at UMD may be taken by the time Jan. 27 rolls around. The Terps don’t have much room to add more prospects, even if there are a couple greyshirts and early enrollees. If the Maryland staff is able to pull the likes of Ellis Brooks (Benedictine/Richmond, Va.) and Markquese Bell (Bridgeton, N.J.) earlier during the New Year, well, the coaches might not be able to “take” another linebacker-type in Acceus.
Now, if the UMD staff, with Matt Barnes running point, truly covets Acceus, they’ll surely be exchanging messages during the dead period to try and get him on campus earlier in January. But if Acceus is viewed strictly as a backup option to Bell and/or Brooks, it makes sense they’d shift his visit all the way until late January. That way, the coaches can see what Bell/Brooks decide before opting to push for Acceus or not.
Meanwhile, Acceus is seeking to see Virginia Tech, NC State and maybe Indiana in January. The Wolfpack coaches just began upping the pursuit, but Tech’s staff has been involved for a while. If the Hokies’ coaches are willing to accept the three-star -- and we’re told they are -- they could possibly convince him to join in Jan. 13 or Jan. 20 (he’ll officially visit on one of those two dates). Acceus has praised Va Tech’s defense and player development previously, and he has a strong rapport with a couple Hokies’ staffers.
If not, maybe NC State’s coaches could snag Acceus after his official to Raleigh, N.C. (The Hoosiers could become involved as well, but only if Acceus doesn’t have other options.)
For now, though, we’re keeping Acceus “hot” on the hot board given his affinity for UMD; his relationship with the coaches; and his previous standout trips to College Park. But our gut, at this current date, is that Acceus might opt in at Va Tech before he makes it to Maryland.
Naytron Culpepper, S, Carol City (Miami, Fla.): So long as there’s room in Maryland’s class, it’s looking more and more like Culpepper is going to be a Terp. This week we learned that not only is South Carolina, the squad running almost even with Maryland for Culpepper’s services, unable to “take” the three star, but neither is Michigan State’s staff. Culpepper was supposed to visit East Lansing, Mich., in January, and he still might do so, but our colleagues who cover the Spartans believe the coaches have a couple other safeties ahead of Culpepper on their board.
Culpepper may take a look at Indiana or Mississippi State in January too, but the Terps have a decided edge over both of those programs.
Recall, the three-star officially visited UMD Dec. 3-4 and raved about it. Culpepper was already particularly high on the Terps due to his relationship with area recruiter Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, but the College Park foray vaulted Maryland to the top of the board. He praised the environment at UMD, the various players he interacted with, the campus, the location near Washington, D.C., and, naturally, the coaching staff.
“The official visit was a 10. I loved it,” Culpepper said. “Maryland is really up there. I had a great time up there, and it was a lot of fun. The coaches showed me a lot of love, the players showed me love, and I just had a good time and it felt like home.”
Culpepper doesn’t intend to commit until late January, but we could see him ending his recruitment earlier once he realizes his two other main options have fallen off.
Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.): Regardless of whatever else has been floating out there in regards to Castro-Fields, this is what we’ve been able to glean this week:
First, from our Penn State connects, we were originally told the Nittany Lions’ staff likely wouldn’t be making a huge push for the four-star corner since they just landed Lamont Wade (Clairton, Pa.); have two other prime corners committed; and have several more young up-and-comers already in the program. But, later on, another key source indicated head coach James Franklin is willing to press for Castro-Fields since he’s a DMV recruit and the Nittany Lions love having a presence in the DMV.
The latter could very well be the case since Castro-Fields is heading up to State College, Pa., in January and doesn’t intend to back out of that official.
Secondly, a couple of our Alabama contacts continue to insist the Tide coaches are still monitoring a couple other targets and might not be ready to accept a Castro-Fields commitment. There’s a chance said targets fall through, but, at this stage, our Tide colleagues are saying head coach Nick Saban has another five-star or two in mind.
We wouldn’t be surprised, however, if Castro-Fields truly wanted in at Bama, Saban took his pledge anyway. Like James Franklin, the Tide headman loves establishing a foothold in the D.C. corridor.
Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is making some noise, and Castro-Fields has an upcoming January official to Blacksburg. We hadn’t heard much buzz surrounding the Hokies, even after Castro-Fields took them in unofficially, but apparently they are gaining steam and the defensive coaches have his ear.
As for the Terps, the four-star had a standout College Park official Dec. 9, bonding with the other DMV recruits (he called them “his friends, not recruits”) and reconnecting with all the Maryland coaches, who have done their best to convince Castro-Fields to remain local. Castro-Fields believes in the direction headman D.J. Durkin is taking the program and knows he could be part of a hometown rise. His mother is comfortable with the program as well, which always helps.
What are we to make of all the above?
Well, our read is Castro-Fields may be a recruit looking to take his talents outside the DMV. It’s possible he could fall into Maryland’s lap if the four-star senses a less-than-potent push from the Bama and PSU staffs, but we’re not so sure that’s going to be the case.
Off The Board
Guy Thomas, BUCK, Booker T. Washington (Miami, Fla.): Thomas didn’t sound overly enthused about Maryland after his official visit anyway, but now the three-star couldn’t come to UMD even if he wanted to. The Terps filled their BUCK spots with both Bryce Brand (discussed above) and Kofi Wardlow (discussed above) on board, meaning Thomas is no longer a “take” for the UMD staff.
The Nebraska commit will likely stick with Huskers, which he’s officially visiting in January. Louisville is also in play.
Owen Carney, BUCK, Miami Central (Miami, Fla.): The Terps’ staff probably would’ve been positioned to reel the three-star edge rusher Carney in after his No. 1 suitor, Florida State, fell off and only Illinois to contend with. But when the UMD coaches pulled in Kofi Wardlow (discussed above) and Bryce Brand (discussed above), Carney’s spot was snatched up. Scholarship numbers are tight, and it’s unlikely the Maryland coaches would be able to accept Carney’s pledge at this time.
Expect Carney, who rated his October College Park official an “8 out of 10,” to wind up at Illinois, whose staff has been pressing for the Miami native. Carney officially visited the Illini Dec. 9 and seems inclined to commit to Lovie Smith’s program in short order.
Olakunle Fatukasi, ILB, Grand Street (Brooklyn, N.Y.): The Rutgers commit Fatukasi, who was in contact with UMD linebackers coach Matt Barnes and saw UMD back in the summer, pondered a January official to College Park. That’s not going to happen now, however, with Maryland’s class filling up. The Terps have a couple more spots for the likes of Ellis Brooks (mentioned above), Markquese Bell (mentioned above) and maybe Louis Acceus (discussed above).
In all likelihood, Fatukasi is going to remain committed to Rutgers.
Jordan Anthony, OLB, IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.): There was the slightest semblance of hope for Maryland fans that Anthony might back away from Michigan since he might have to attend prep school before enrolling. But, as we surmised last week, that possibility is not a significant enough deterrent for Anthony.
By the time you finish reading this Shell, the four-star DMV native should be committed to the Wolverines. Michigan is the only program Anthony officially visited and was the far-and-away frontrunner for months, the four-star talking up the Ann Arbor, Mich., atmosphere; the school’s tradition; and the coaching staff’s defensive reputation/player development.
The Maryland coaches, collectively, went after Anthony in earnest, but their pitch fell on deaf ears. Anthony reneged on an intended Dec. 9 College Park official visit, an indication his pro-DMV movement words rang a bit of lip service.
Tavyn Jackson, CB, James Rickards (Tallahassee, Fla.): As expected, the three-star corner Jackson announced he was sticking with his South Carolina pledge this week. The Gamecocks’ coaches went in-home with Jackson right before the dead period, and that personal overture re-won the Tallahassee native over.
On top of that, Jackson, who previously suggested a flip to Maryland was imminent following his Dec. 2 College Park official, was not an immediate “take” for the Terps. For the UMD staff to accept Jackson, they would’ve needed current slot corner commit Dazz Newsome to decommit.
But even if Newsome heads elsewhere down the line, don’t expect Jackson to reconsider Maryland. Jackson is all on-board with USC and will be officially visiting Columbia, S.C., Jan. 27 -- a trip that will further cement his status with the Gamecocks.