Maryland is still on spring break, but that doesn’t mean the football coaches aren’t in the office working and hosting recruits. In fact, on March 26, one of UMD’s top 2018 offensive line targets returned to College Park, Md., for the first time since the fall.
Imhotep (Philadelphia, Pa.) tackle Justin Johnson loved his initial stay at Maryland for its Oct. 22 upset victory against Michigan State, so the 6-foot-6, 330-pounder opted to return for another look this spring.
“Maryland was real good. I enjoyed meeting the coaching staff and talking to them all individually,” said Johnson, who recently claimed a leaderboard consisting of UMD, UVA, Pitt, Temple, Boston College, Wisconsin, Vanderbilt and Michigan State. “They’re still on break, so the students and players weren’t there, but the coaches all made sure they were there to talk to me and show me around. I really enjoyed talking to them and touring the facilities and all that.”
When asked what the highlight of his stay was, the Imhotep product said, simply, “everything.” He said the program in general, with head coach D.J. Durkin running the show, has “some really good vibes around it.”
“Just seeing what they’re doing there, seeing what Coach Durkin has going on, it’s impressive,” Johnson said. “They went to a bowl game last year, they just had their top recruiting class ever, and they’re only going to go up from there. It’s all very impressive, from the top down. You can just tell it from walking around there and talking to the coaches.”
Speaking of those coaches, Johnson had an opportunity to chat up almost half the field staff March 26. In addition to Durkin, the Philadelphia lineman talked to recruiter Anthony Tucker, line coach Tyler Bowen, offensive coordinator Walt Bell and a couple other assistants. Meanwhile, Director of Operations Marcus Berry showed Johnson and his mother around campus.
“In general, the coaches at Maryland really seem to know what they’re doing. They’re great to talk to, they’re all energetic, and they’re doing what they have to do to be successful,” said Johnson, who acknowledged he has a tight rapport with his recruiter, Tucker, and is building a bond with the line coach Bowen. “They’re great coaches too. Coach Bowen, it’s his first year at Maryland, but I can tell he’s a great coach and can help his players be successful. So it’s exciting what Maryland is doing there and very impressive to me.”
Johnson went on to detail his campus tour, commenting on the facility upgrades in the process. He also likes the school’s academics, which are paramount in his recruitment..
“Everything I saw there looks very nice. It shows Maryland is moving up and really building up to a top program,” Johnson said.
The day before heading to College Park, Johnson saw UVA for the first time. The Cavaliers are also among his top eight contenders.
“I enjoyed Virginia. It’s a top public university in the nation,” Johnson said. “And Coach Bronco Mendenahall is really working there. He’s doing what he has to do to make them more successful. He’s changing things around there. Also, I spoke to most of the coaches one-on-one there, and I really connected well with them.”
Before hitting UMD and UVA, Johnson was able to check out Syracuse, Rutgers, Temple, Boston College, Duke, UNC, NC State and Pitt (twice). Next up, he wants to see the schools he hasn’t been able to get to on his top-eight favorites list. No dates have been set, but Johnson estimates he’ll be able to trek through Michigan State, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt sometime during the summer.
“Right now everyone on my top eight is the same for me. All of the coaches at those schools are pushing for me,” Johnson said. “That’s why I chose those schools for my top eight. They’re all in touch, all seeing how I’m doing, and all are checking in on my academically. No one is ahead of anyone else yet.
“And I can’t really say what schools stick out until I’ve seen the further-away places. And even when I do see [MSU, Vandy and Wisconsin], that doesn’t mean I’m going to make a decision right after that. I don’t want to delay the process, but I don’t want to rush it either. I do want to take my time, and I’d like to take official visits. I know officials start in September, so after that, sometime during the fall, I’ll see how things are going. I just think it would be beneficial to stay overnight, stay with the players and see what that experience is like.”
Johnson, who has only been playing football for two years (he said he was all about academics prior to trying out for football during his sophomore year), mentioned education is a foremost factor when evaluating schools. He’s also looking for a place with a strong player-coach bond and where he could see himself living for the next few years.