In a much-anticipated announcement during the fourth quarter of the Under Armour All-American game Jan. 1, Bridgeton (N.J.) four-star strong safety Markquese Bell committed to Maryland, making this the second straight year the Terps have landed a recruit at the ballyhooed all-star affair.
“I’m proud to announce that I’m going to be a Terp. I just feel comfortable at the school and I feel like I can excel there on and off the field," said the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Bell, who will enroll at Maryland this month and arrive in College Park, Md., Jan. 20. " I actually told the [Maryland] coaches awhile ago I was coming -- like two weeks ago. They were real excited when I told them [around mid-December]. I talked to every coach on the staff, and they were so happy. They talked about how I could come in the first day and make an impact on the team. The opportunity to play early is really [big].
"And, honestly, everybody there is just happy every time I come up [to UMD to visit]. Every day you can tell the coaches are bringing it in practice, and Coach [D.J.] Durkin is just a great guy, and Coach Aazaar [Abdul-Rahim] and Coach [Anthony] Tucker, they've been recruiting me since the fist day I got there, and I really appreciate that."
Bell first emerged on Maryland’s radar in September 2015, before the D.J. Durkin regime even took over. The Jersey corner pulled his Terps’ offer from former UMD-area recruiter Keith Dudzinski, making UMD one of the first schools to extend a verbal to the budding star.
When Anthony Tucker, Aazaar Abdul-Rahim and Durkin arrived in College Park, though, they quickly reestablished the relationship. Tucker ran point on the recruitment, but Abdul-Rahim, defensive coordinator Andy Buh and Durkin himself had a rapport with Bell too.
The coterie of coaches convinced Bell to trek down to College Park for the first time March 26 for a team scrimmage. The Bridgeton native immediately liked what he saw, lauding the team’s intensity and the overall energy emanating from the coaching staff. Bell also loved the campus environment, how close the school was to Washington, D.C., and the renovated player dorms and coming facility upgrades he was shown.
“The first time I was down at Maryland, it was a great experience and I knew I liked it even then,” Bell said before. “I loved the defense and the way they worked, and I felt like I could fit in well there. And the environment there is great too, and I love the city-feel and how D.C. is right there too. It’s pretty amazing. I mean, I love being in D.C., and I can run down there anytime I need to. It's just a great area.
“Then when I was on the tour, I saw the player dorms, and I’ve never seen anything like those before. They were awesome. And the virtual tour of the new upgrades, when those are done they're going to be a sight to see.”
Bell wouldn’t make it back to College Park for several more months as numerous big-name suitors came calling, diverting the recruit’s attention. But, even so, Tucker and Co. maintained communication lines, while trekking up to see the Jersey product whenever possible.
“Coach Tucker is a great guy and I like him a lot. We stay in touch and keep each other in the loop. He’s been up here before and he was always telling me how much they need me there and how I could play right away if I worked hard,” Bell said. “And Coach Durkin, he’s a cool person too. He was talking to me about how they’re building the program back up to where it should be, and how they want to win championships there. He said they need guys like me to help them get there. I was honored to hear that. It sounded great.”
Even so, the Terps seemed to reside on the outer-rim of Bell’s leaderboard, with the four-star favoring the likes of Clemson; Michigan; Florida; UNC; Wisconsin; Penn State; and Georgia. He also had hometown Rutgers firmly in play since head coach Chris Ash had left an impression.
But as the months moved along, some of those larger contenders either filled their safety/linebacker slots or opted to go in a different direction. By the time late fall rolled around, Bell was focused in on a different set of schools – those that actually coveted his services. Maryland and RU remained firmly in the mix, although Virginia Tech and Ohio State were thought to be making a late charge.
But the Terps cemented their position after a late-October 2016 official visit to College Park (Maryland played Ohio State that day). Bell, who previously saw Rutgers officially in September, said his second trek through UMD was “terrific.” The Maryland staff not only gained Bell’s ear during the trip, but his grandmother’s as well.
“[My grandma] liked everything about it," said Bell, whose grandmother was paramount in this recruitment, the recruit mentioning how important it was for her to easily see him play. "She said they treated her very nicely and she understood everything they were saying about academics and how there is so much opportunity being right next to Washington, D.C.
“And the coaches, they showed me a lot. I talked to Coach [Matt] Barnes a little bit. He got to talk to my grandma, and we got to talk to the academic advisor. I also spent time with the other coaches. They were talking about how they're going with the recruiting class this year, they can be like Ohio State is now in these next few years if they get all the guys they want.”
The current Terps did their part to convince Bell as well. UMD running back LoLo Harrison hosted the Bridgeton four-star and apparently showed him a great time.
"It was fun to go out with [the team] and see what they thought about the school, and their thoughts on everything. They showed us a good time,” Bell said. “They treated us really nicely, and it was a great game [against OSU]. They pulled through, so that made the weekend a lot better. Everybody was so happy."
It only helped UMD’s chances that the school has one of the most renowned communication programs in the country. Bell wants to major in that field, and acknowledged the journalism school’s reputation hit home.
Thus, Bell left College Park feeling great about the Terps, although it was fairly clear he wanted in at Ohio State. He had a November official to Columbus, Ohio, coming up, and the feeling was, if the staff would “take” him, he would commit on campus.
Alas, the Buckeyes’ coaches didn’t have a scholarship for Bell, and they wouldn’t leading up to the Jersey recruit’s Jan. 1 commitment day either.
That left Virginia Tech as Maryland’s main threat. The Hokies’ coaches hosted Bell Dec. 12, but while the four-star had a great time, lauding the people in Blacksburg, Va.; the academics; and the campus; it didn’t seem like Tech had surpassed the Terps in the pecking order.
Truth be told, prior to the Blacksburg trip, D.J. Durkin made an in-person pitch that vaulted the Terps well ahead of the Hokies and even the Scarlet Knights. The head coach’s home visit with Bell and his grandmother resonated, Durkin once again preaching early playing time and the chance to shine at multiple spots in UMD’s 4-2-5 scheme. Durkin’s personable demeanor and attitude stayed with Bell and his family too.
“Coach Durkin is a great guy,” Bell said after the in-home. “He talked about how I could thrive in that defense, and the way they play defense. They play a cover-3 defense, which I'm used to playing."
A couple weeks later, with Ohio State falling by the wayside, Bell opted into Durkin’s program on New Year’s Day. He brings a dynamic, athletic precesne to Maryland’s defense -- he even played some receiver at Bridgeton and at the UA game -- and should have an immediate impact in College Park.
Bell is the 29th commit and the fifth early enrollee in the Terps' 2017 class.
"I'm all set, ready to be a Terp, and now I'm going to be working to bring more guys in," Bell said. "I'm working on [offensive tackle] Calvin Ashley [St. John's/Washington, D.C.] right now. In my mind, he's already coming to Maryland. But this is a great class we have going [at UMD], and we're going to keep the momentum going."
Scout's Corey Bender contributed to this article.