Fla. games could boost recruitment
COLLEGE PARK — Given that college football games are typically scheduled years — and sometimes decades — in advance, new Maryland coach DJ Durkin had nothing to do with the back-to-back trips the Terps will make to Florida this month.
While Durkin might not have wanted to subject his young team to two straight road games, he understands the long-term benefits of playing Florida International tonight in Miami and Central Florida on Sept. 17 in Orlando. It’s a chance to build a program with a recruiting footprint stretching south.
“Florida is definitely an important area for us,” Durkin said Tuesday. “We have a good presence in Florida. Our staff has good connections down there. There are good players down there, so we’ll always continue to recruit down there.”
Two commits for the Class of 2017 play high school football in Florida, including five-star defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, who grew up in Middle River and is playing his senior year at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.
Mike Farrell, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, thinks the Terps are positioned well to acquire talent from the Sunshine State.
“You’re not going to win the big battles [in Florida] too often, with the big three [Florida, Florida State and Miami] or the SEC unless you’re Ohio State or Michigan, but you can find a lot of talent down there,” Farrell said. “If you do well playing those Florida teams, and show kids you’re a good option for them if they don’t have Big Three offers, I think it’s important.”
But right now, recruiting can take a back seat. Durkin is focused on the Panthers (0-1), first and foremost.
FIU, which plays in Conference USA, lost its season opener, 34-13, at home against Indiana.
“I don’t really know how you can measure the importance of a game played in Florida when it comes to recruiting down there,” Durkin said. “For us, no matter where we’re playing or who we’re playing, it is game No. 2, and we have to find a way to win the game.”
Said offensive coordinator Walt Bell: “Is Florida a huge piece for us? Yes. Is us playing a game there the end-all-be-all, and will it somehow manage to help recruiting opportunities or will it somehow put us in a position to recruit some of the blue bloods? Maybe. Maybe not. I think for us, weneed to go down, do well and be successful. I think if we do that, that will help us.”
Needless to say, the 13 Terps on the roster who grew up in the talent-rich state are excited about their homecomings. (One of them, sophomore cornerback JC Jackson, who was raised in Immokalee, might not be active because of an “academic matter.” He had not been cleared to play as of Thursday.)
“It’s going to be a nice feeling to play back in Florida and play in front of my family,” said senior safety Denzel Conyers, who grew up in St. Petersburg. “This is going to be their first game seeing melive since I was in high school.”
Only Will Likely, senior cornerback and return specialist, who grew up less than an hour away in Belle Glade, has played a college game in his home state. That was a painful 63-0 demolition at No. 8 Florida State in 2013.
Likely and others expecting a large group of family members and friends at the game had to figure out how to handle their ticket allotment. Each player receives four complimentary tickets to disperse.
“We ask guys around, ‘Can I get some of your tickets for this weekend?’ Everybody is MARYLAND (1-0)@ FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (0-1) When: Tonight, 7:30 Site: Ocean Bank Field at FIU Football Stadium, Miami Video: CBS Sports Network Radio: 1300 AM, 980 AM, Channel 81 on Sirius and XM Series: Maryland leads 4-0 Line: Maryland by 101⁄ What’s at stake: After an impressive first half in the season-opening 52-13 win over Howard, first-year Maryland coach DJ Durkin played a lot of freshmen and others without much experience in the second half. The depth should help the Terps against a Florida International team that wore down in the fourth quarter against Indiana at home last week, when the Hoosiers, despite the suspensions of six players before the game, scored 22 straight points to win, 34-13. Key matchup: The Maryland defense will be tested a lot more than it was in the opener. FIU junior quarterback Alex McGough completed 23 of 46 passes for 263 yards against Indiana but was intercepted three times. If the secondary struggles without cornerback JC Jackson, who will probably sit out again because of an unresolved academic matter, McGough has some capable receivers in senior tight end Jonnu Smith and junior running back Alex Gardner. Player to watch: Graduate transfer Trey Edmunds had a terrific first game for the Terps last week, showing his speed and power in rushing for 48 yards and a touchdown on six carries, and his resourcefulness in returning a blocked punt 13 yards for another score. Given that the Panthers are not big defensively, the 6-foot-2, 223-pound running back could be a load to bring down. — Don Markus understanding,” Conyers said. “We don’t get to Florida like — ever. It’s just like a code; it’s understood. Anybody from the state got first dibs on tickets. Everybody has been very genuine in helping us out.”
While it appears as though Durkin and his staff have focused their aim for 2017 and beyond on trying to keep the best local talent from leaving Maryland and Washington, the importance of keeping ties to Florida are obvious. Along with California and Texas, it produces the most talent of any state in terms of college football.
Conyers knows that winning the next two road games could be “a statement to the young prospects coming up in Florida that Maryland is potentially, if not already, a pipeline and they should seriously consider coming.”
“This will put a stamp on a process already that our coaching staff is recruiting the state of Florida,” he said. “I believe that our showcasing the dudes on the team, showing our talent, the young kids will see that Maryland is for real.”