The Terps landed their first 2018 commitment from Paint Branch (Burtonsville, Md.) BUCK Durell Nchami March 13. Afterwards, we spoke to the 6-foot-2, 206-pounder's head coach, Mike Nesmith, to gain more insight.
Terrapin Times: Coach, we had a feeling Durell was going to commit to Maryland ever since he landed the offer back in January. What did you think of him heading to the hometown school, and did you expect it as well?
Mike Nesmith: Well, personally I’m excited about it, and selfishly I’m excited about it. I’d really like to be able to see him play. We can get down there on Saturdays and check him out and all that (laughs).
Also, because I feel really strongly about Coach [Matt] Barnes, Coach [Chris] Beatty and Coach [D.J.] Durkin. That entire staff, it’s a lot of great guys. It’s great energy down there. I’ve been coaching for a long time now and have seen a few staffs go through there. And not to be disparaging of anyone, but it’s just very exciting to see the energy and passion these guys have. They seem very genuine. They were good to me when they first came on board, before Durell was on their radar. It wasn’t like they changed once they knew he was here. So I’m excited for Durell and excited for those [coaches].
TT: When you spoke to Durell, what did he tell you about why he committed?
MN: We’ve been talking a lot about it over the last few weeks. When we went down the first time for an unofficial [Feb. 4], he had a great feeling then. Each time on campus it felt right to him. Some other unofficials at other spots were nice, but it didn’t feel the same as Maryland.
And he’s kind of a reserved kid. He doesn’t really look for much attention. He’s outgoing with his teammates, but if you don’t know him he’s kind of shy. I don’t think he wanted to draw out the process. Once he found somewhere he liked and was comfortable, that’s what he went with.
TT: Can you break down Durell’s game for us? What does he bring to Maryland’s defense?
MN: What he brings is a tremendous amount of position flex. In today’s multiple game and up-tempo game, where you can’t sub out the run-stopping backer on third down and where offenses can dictate what you do in terms of certain personnel, [Nchami] is a guy who can rush the passer of the edge; drop into space; and cover effectively. He had a couple interceptions for touchdowns this year, and his highlight film really shows the different skills he has. He can be a 4-3 end, a 3-4 outside linebacker, a BUCK, a SAM … It depends on what you need him to do and what your team needs. He really brings a lot of versatility.
And last year he really impressed us with what he did moving all around and processing the entire scheme, not just defensively but on offense too. Offensively, we played him at multiple positions like H-back, tight end and receiver. And he was a good run blocker too. He scored touchdowns at all three spots, really showing a lot of versatility.
TT: And every recruit needs to improve. What areas does Durell need to pick up to be ready for Big Ten ball?
MN: The jump he made from his sophomore to his junior year was incredible. But I think for Durell, it’s about him understanding his standing on the field. We’re hoping each time he steps on the field, he knows he’s the best player on the field. Not trying to do things outside of the scheme or his responsibilities, but just with that confidence and taking on that leadership role. We’re starting to see that; he’s taking a more pronounced role and accepting the challenge this offseason.
A year ago at this time, we weren’t sure he was capable of that. So to see him start to grow into that is good, but I think the Maryland coaches would really like to see him be even more assertive.
TT: You said it wasn’t until his junior year when he made the jump to a potential top-level recruit. Was there a moment that you can recall? When did you know Durell could play at a high level?
MN: We felt like that during 7-on-7 last year. For a lot of teams 7-on-7 is just touch football in shorts, but for us and what we like to do, we don’t play nickelbacks a lot. We force our linebackers to learn how to cover and play in space when they’re not comfortable doing so. But they learn in 7-on-7 and get used to do it.
But with Durell, there were some aspects he was rather poor at, and I was really on him hard about it. There were other guys at his position that did a better job. But he slowly started to progress there, and by the end of 7-on-7 he was starting to intercept the ball on a regular basis. He started with not doing what he was supposed to do, to getting better day by day, to getting his hand on the ball, and, at the end, getting interceptions.
Seeing that type of growth and understanding of the position, it showed us he could really handle a lot. It showed us that he could do things outside of his comfort zone. And if he can handle things he’s not used to doing, how’s he going to play when he’s in his realm and his element? So that’s when we knew he really had a chance to be special.
TT: Coach, when I’ve talked to Durell he’s always been funny and outspoken. How is he around you guys and his teammates?
MN: He’s very silly, but to be perfectly honest I didn’t see that until the season started last year. Guys would tell me things Durell would do, and I was like, ‘Who are you talking about?’ I would never see that. He would never act silly or be cracking up in front of me. So around his friends he’s [silly], but he’s usually very unassuming and low-key.
TT: Last question, Coach. Are there any games or moments that stick out in your mind when characterizing Durell?
MN: The Gaithersburg game last year he had two interceptions for touchdowns at linebacker, and a third where he was a receiver and caught a jump ball. One of the interceptions, he was leading a screen, peeled back, picked the ball off and then returned it all the way back. It was a really smart and heads up play.
As a coach, we give our guys a lot of things that are very detailed and specific. Not every high school player can handle that. But to see a kid not just process it, but to put it into action and make big plays, that was really eye opening for us.
So that was a three-touchdown performance and two were on defense. That performance was really impressive.