The day before he committed to Maryland, Kingsley Opara told his father that he was "going to go to West Virginia."
The interest that Opara -- a 6-foot-3, 280-pound defensive tackle from Mandarin High in Jacksonville, Fla. -- had in the Mountaineers was sincere. But when his father came home from work Friday, Opara arrived at a different decision.
“We kind of listed pros and cons of going to Maryland vs. going to West Virginia,” Opara said Tuesday. “We talked about it one last time. I thought about it more, and there are more NFL connections at Maryland, and the recruiting Maryland is doing this year is really unbelievable. [Studying] business or criminology, and [living in] the D.C. area and all that stuff, I feel like it’s a better fit. I felt like I was more comfortable with the decision to go to Maryland.”
Opara made his choice official Friday night, committing to the Terps over offers from Connecticut, Temple, Wake Forest, West Virginia and several others. The three-star prospect cited the experience of coach Randy Edsall (a former Jacksonville Jaguars assistant), defensive coordinator Brian Stewart (formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans) and defensive line coach Greg Gattuso (who has coached future pros) as a primary reason for his commitment.
“NFL connection after NFL connection after NFL connection,” Opara said. “[Edsall] and [New York Giants coach] Tom Coughlin are pretty close. And the Redskins and Ravens are right down the street. They can come scout players – we’re right there. It’s just a bigger city, and I’m a bigger city type of person.”
Mandarin coach Robert Dean had an idea that Opara was destined for big things when the defensive lineman joined his program three years ago. But it wasn’t just Opara’s size that impressed Dean back then.
“He’s always been big. He’s one of those kids that was so big that he wasn’t done growing into his body,” Dean said. “He’s taken some time to mature; probably this past spring is when he finally came into his own. He’s always been big and strong, but he finally caught up to his body with his agility and quickness and explosiveness off the football. His first step is great. He throws his weight around like it’s nothing. He’s one of the strongest kids I’ve ever coached. You’ll watch him on film and when the ball is snapped, he’s the first one to move on either side of the ball.”
In Opara, Maryland landed a player at a definite position of need. The Terps’ 3-4 defense requires a nose tackle and two ends that must be strong enough to battle offensive tackles. Dean thinks Opara is versatile enough to fill either role.
“He’s broad-shouldered, big armed and he’s got the right amount of weight,” Dean said. “He’s got big hips and is lean and trim. He can move, has a quick first step, is quick side to side, so he can play the nose or the end. It makes him very versatile for what they’re trying to do. He can play either spot. That’s why they like him so much.”
Opara noted that Maryland will graduate starters Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis after the 2011 season, leaving a gaping void on the defensive line. Opara said the Maryland coaches told him that he should be prepared to play as a true freshman.
“They have a need for linemen. I’ll have a chance to start earlier at Maryland than I would at West Virginia,” Opara said. “On tape, I was pretty good, enough to get an offer. [But when] I played in the spring and was a whole ‘nother player from junior year, that really [got the Maryland coaches] excited.”
Opara has visited College Park, but never made the trip up to Morgantown. He said he hasn’t really thought about checking out the campus of West Virginia. While Opara said he might listen if other schools came calling, “right now it’s Maryland.” The future Terp is looking forward to his future in College Park.
“I feel like this year, they should be able to go to a bowl game,” Opara said. “But I think when I come in my freshman year and the years to come, it’s a bright future ahead at the University of Maryland, especially with the recruiting class last year and this year. The future seems bright.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun