COLLEGE PARK — They left Washington as friendly rivals, respecting each other's talents and having formed a bond from summer camps and scouting combines. They reunited as teammates briefly, first at the University of New Mexico and later at a junior college In Iowa.
They are now back together, "like brothers" they say, hoping to help revive a Maryland football team that has won just six games in Randy Edsall's first two seasons. Each could play a significant role under offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, the coach and confidante who has figured in their lives for years.
When wide receiver Deon Long and quarterback Ricardo Young take the field together at Byrd Stadium on Saturday for the start of spring practice, it will mark the end of what has been a long and sometimes exhausting journey for both.
"It was definitely a long road, for me and Deon, we actually had the same kind of path so to speak," Young said this week.
After finishing his career at Dunbar High in Washington in 2009 as a three-star prospect, Long attended Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia for a few months, went to West Virginia University for spring practice in 2010, then New Mexico and Iowa Western Community College for a season each.
Young went from H.D. Woodson High in Washington, where he was the city's Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in 2010 (as well as the school's valedictorian), to Virginia Tech for a year. He left there for New Mexico and then went to Iowa Western but never played in a game at either school before transferring to Maryland last year.
Both left New Mexico after Locksley was fired as the Lobos' head coach in the fall of 2011. After Young decided to become a Terp this past summer, Long said he told his closest friend, "Wherever you're going, I'm going."
Terps recruited both
Both had thought about playing for Maryland out of high school. Young chose the Hokies, confident he could do the same things Tyrod Taylor, now the Ravens backup quarterback, had accomplished in Blacksburg. Long saw his future as a Mountaineer, playing alongside slot receiver Tavon Austin, the former Baltimore Dunbar star now considered a potential first-round draft pick.
"Maryland was one of my first offers, actually it was one of my top choices," Young said. "As far as the opportunity to get back and get here on this level, I'm just blessed. ... Every day I take the time to thank the Lord that I got this opportunity. Now that I get to showcase my talents, I'm not going to disappoint."
Maryland had offered Long, too, when he was in high school, but he said the offer came late in the recruiting process.
"I felt like that was sort of disrespectful for me, being the player and having the talent that I have that they would offer a player from New Jersey or Pennsylvania ahead of me, and I'm right down the street," Long said on national signing day this February. "I would have come here, I would have liked to, but that was their fault."
Looking back, Long said his time at Hargrave Military Academy was well-spent.
"I think prep school was the start of it. That's where all my discipline really came from," he said. "Getting up at 5 in morning, cleaning this and cleaning that, taking orders from guys who were much older and higher up in the ranks. I think my journey made me a better player. It made me stronger, got me bigger and it kept me hungry."
Figuring in the offense
Long is expected to step in at wide receiver, to show the NFL-caliber speed and great hands that helped make him a player many considered the top junior college prospect in the country last year. Long should be a dangerous complement to a teammate he calls "the Young Great One" — Stefon Diggs, who as a freshman was considered one of the most electrifying players in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Young is expected to compete with redshirt senior C.J.Brown for the starting quarterback job going into the 2013 season. Though two inches smaller and 20 to 30 pounds lighter than the 6-3, 210-pound Brown, Young is considered a better passer. He might even be a step or two faster than Brown, who will participate on a limited basis in spring practice after undergoing knee surgery following a preseason ACL tear last year.
"I just want to use this spring to make my team a lot better. We've got a lot of young receivers, a lot of good receivers," said Young, who had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules. "I want to use the spring to really take the time to get them really acquainted, to use the time to get myself back acquainted. I feel like I'm a veteran now."
Not only is Young familiar with Long. He has played with tight end Daniel Adams, who also tranferred from New Mexico, and he has known Diggs since they played together for three years between ages 8 and 10 on the White Oak Warriors in Pop Warner football. They have renewed their relationship over the past year.
"We have a really great rapport, that will help us a lot on connecting on certain routes, certain things we should be on point," Young said.
Aware that Brown was expected to start before suffering the knee injury last summer, Young said, "I came in with the attitude that I was going to be there every day, I was going to be diligent with my work, come in and add on some weight and maintain my speed if not get faster and stronger, actually just compete with those guys."
With Brown still not healthy enough to compete in all of the spring drills, Young will get a majority of the reps in the 12 scheduled practices and in the annual red-white spring game April 12. Even Edsall acknowledged this week that it could give Young the edge in the preseason when they'll decide who will start the season opener.
"He should be very comfortable, because he doesn't have to learn different terminology, he understands what the offense is all about," Edsall said. "He does have familiarity with Deon, but what he's got to do is use that knowledge that he has and that skill set that he has and go out and develop each and every day. He's got to challenge himself every day to be the best he can be. If he does do that, it's going to work to his advantage [by getting a majority of the spring reps]."
Young said the practice field is only part of the equation.
"I'm a guy who's always going to be in the film room, always be diligent with my work," he said. " I'm a guy who's going to go out and be nothing less than 110 percent every day, just push my teammates forward to our No. 1 goal, which is winning games and winning the ACC championship. Anything less than that is failure."
Though Edsall spoke on national signing day about the competition at wide receiver, Long is expected to the main downfield option. As a freshman at New Mexico, Long caught 47 passes for 809 yards and four touchdowns, and he was named the Mountain West offensive freshman of the year. He had video game numbers at Western Iowa, with 100 catches for 1,626 yards and 25 touchdowns.
The Locksley effect
Long said he was attracted back to Maryland by the prospect of playing with Young, Diggs, Adams and safety Zach Dancel, another of the New Mexico transfers. But aside from having his mother get to see him play, one of the biggest reasons was Locksley, who over the years has become a recruiting magnet for Washington area players in his stops at Florida, Illinois and New Mexico.
"The relationship I had with Coach Locks, him being so truthful to me and not selling me dreams, that's another determining factor that brought me here," said Long said, who considered attending Illinois initially but chose West Virginia because he felt he had a stronger chance of playing right away there. "When I went to New Mexico, he gave me the ball. I like his offense. It allows me to showcase my talents."
And just how explosive can the offense be with either Young or Brown at quarterback, throwing to Long and Diggs as well as others?
"Me being in the offense before at New Mexico, playing with a less [talented] team, we did a lot of explosive things." Long said. "With the personnel we have here and the talent we have here, I think Locksley goes deep into the playbook and he can run the table. ... I thought the players last year did a pretty good job, with the quarterback situation, they did what they could do. Once we get the quarterback position established, we should be scoring 50 points a game easily."
Asked what he liked about offense, Young smiled.
"Everything," he said.
5 Things To Look For At Maryland's Spring Practice
YOUNG'S DEVELOPMENT: Junior quarterback Ricardo Young has yet to play in a college game despite being at two different Division I programs, Virginia Tech and New Mexico, as well as a short stay at a junior college. With redshirt senior C.J.Brown not ready to do anything more than 7-on-7 passing drills — if that —Young will get a chance to challenge for the starting job come fall.
DEFENSIVE LEADERSHIP: With the departure of seniors Joe Vellano, Demetrius Hartsfield and A.J. Francis, the Terps are going to have to find players to take over as the leaders and playmakers on defense. Linebacker Cole Farrand, who tied Hartsfield for the team-high in tackles (78) last season, has a chance to fill that role, but he will need others, such as cornerback Dexter McDougle and noseguard Darius Kilgoe (the only returning starter from the defensive line), to step up as well.
PROTECTING THE QUARTERBACK: It's probably a good thing that both Young and Brown are quarterbacks who can move around — and out of — the pocket. The quality of the offensive line is still a question mark, but last season provided ample opportunity for players such as left tackle Mike Madaras and Evan Mulrooney (who is competing with junior Sal Conaboy at center) to get on-the-job training as freshmen. Junior college transfer Silvano Altamirano will see a lot of time this spring at left guard.
COMPLEMENT OR COMPETITION: Transfer wide receiver Deon Long is saying all the right things going into spring practice about how much he looks forward to playing with Stefon Diggs, but the well-travelled Long is used to being the primary target at both New Mexico and then at Iowa Western Community College. Diggs caught 58 passes last year, but even without an experienced — or even true college quarterback — the Terps did a good job spreading things around in the passing game.
KICKING IT AROUND: Even with their rash of injuries last season, the Terps still could have been bowl-eligible if the kicking game had been more reliable. Placekicker Brad Craddock finished the season 10 of 16 as a freshman, but the misses included a last-second 33-yarder against North Carolina State that hit the upright in a two-point Homecoming loss and a 35-yarder against Boston College in an earlier three-point defeat. The presence of sophomore walk-on Brendan Magistro (1 of 1 on field goals, 3 of 3 on PATs) and the arrival of Broadneck kicker Adam Green in the fall could make for an interesting competition going into the season.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun