West Virginia winning border war with Maryland for Baltimore recruits

One of the first mandates Daron Roberts received when he joined the football coaching staff at West Virginia last spring came from longtime defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Roberts, who had grown up in Texas and had spent the first four years of his coaching career in the National Football League, was told how important recruiting Baltimore had become to the Mountaineers.

It was his job to keep the pipeline to Morgantown open.

"We believe that Baltimore and Maryland as a state are two critical areas for us to be successful competing in the Big East," Roberts said in a telephone interview earlier this week. "We devote a lot of energy and focus in those two areas."

West Virginia's current roster includes three players from Baltimore, including star wide receiver and kick returner Tavon Austin, as well as several others from the state. Three players from Baltimore, including wide receiver DeonTay McManus of Dunbar, have orally committed to play for the Mountaineers.

Meanwhile, the Terps have one commitment from a Baltimore player, defensive end Roman Braglio of McDonough. Both teams have a number of commitments from players around the state.

With the same number of players from Baltimore on West Virginia's roster as on Maryland's, it makes for an interesting subplot going into Saturday's noon showdown between the 2-0, 18th-ranked Mountaineers and the 1-0 Terrapins at Byrd Stadium.

Aside from it being a showcase of two first-year coaches — Dana Holgorsen of West Virginia and Randy Edsall of Maryland — it will be a chance for one of their teams to take a step forward in the recruiting battle between two schools located a little over three hours apart.

"I think all rival state games always have a little more meaning to them," Edsall said Thursday. "Every school is going to come into this area because it's a very talent-rich area. There are going to be certain qualities that West Virginia looks for and certain qualities we look for."

For a variety of reasons — from the academic reputations of the schools to the style of play of the coaches to the success of the respective programs — it has been a border war that Maryland has been regularly losing since quarterback Scott McBrien transferred to Maryland from West Virginia when Rich Rodriguez took over for Don Nehlen in 2001.

Donald Davis, who has coached at Calvert Hall the past five years, said that Ralph Friedgen's staff barely showed any interest in his players despite the fact that Davis played college football with former Maryland assistant John Donovan.

That has started to change in the months since Edsall was hired, to the point where Davis said that he has been in "virtual constant contact" with the Maryland coaching staff over the past few weeks.

"I've been very pleased with their efforts to reach out to not only our staff but to our kids," Davis said. "It's definitely different than what I experienced when that staff first came in and with the previous staff. I had a great relationship with the old staff but seldom had success with them recruiting our guys."

Lawrence Smith, the Dunbar coach, said that he spent two hours with Edsall during the Gilman-Good Counsel game last week in Annapolis and "his main focus is keeping kids in the state of Maryland, that's his No. 1 goal. I really think there's going to be a change in the next couple of recruiting classes."

Davis said that neither cornerback Da'Quan Davis, who is not related to his coach, nor wide receiver Trevor Williams were recruited by Edsall before committing to West Virginia. Davis said that neither of his players had any academic problems, a reason often cited privately by Friedgen and his assistants as why local players wound up at West Virginia rather than Maryland.

Asked what he was told by Edall and his staff about why they didn't recruit either Da'Quan Davis or Williams, Donald Davis said, "It was a perception of their needs and how well our guys would compete at the University of Maryland."

Donald Davis said that Austin's decision to play for the Mountaineers out of Dunbar two years ago was part of the reason others in the Baltimore area chose to spend their college careers in Morgantown.

"The success that they've had in Baltimore, success breeds success," Davis said. "When four or five kids go to a certain place and they have a positive experience, it's easy to turn that into seven, eight, nine or 10. With the most visible athlete maybe in the last decade to come out of Baltimore, it's going to be a draw for Baltimore, especially since the kid has been a tremendous impact player. Lots of people in Baltimore have paid attention to West Virginia simply because Tavon Austin has been on their roster."

On top of that, Davis said that the raucous and sometimes R-rated game-day atmosphere surrounding Mountaineer Field is as much an attraction to players as it is to regular students.

"They're a pro football team. West Virginia does not have any pro teams," Davis said. "You not only get the campus involved, but Morgantown and its residents are die-hard fans. The atmosphere at the games and surrounding the program can be electric."

It is certainly what helped draw Terence Garvin, who played at Loyola Wakefield, to Morgantown.

Recruited by both West Virginia and Maryland, Garvin said that his mother wanted him to play for the Terps and his father wanted him to play for the Mountaineers. Garvin said he was torn until "I went down there and I fell in love with it."

Ryan Clarke, who grew up in Glen Burnie, said that Maryland was his top choice coming out of DeMatha High School. Clarke said he was "very disappointed" when Friedgen "didn't pay close attention to me" even on his recruiting visit.

When Maryland coaches backed off because of Clarke's grades, Bill Stewart, who replaced Rodriguez, "waited it out with me and showed a dedication to me."

Garvin expects Maryland to put up more of a recruiting fight for local players now with Edsall there, but that as long as Casteel remains in Morgantown, the ties to Baltimore will be strong. Casteel has been recruiting the area since he was an assistant coach at Shepherd College more than 20 years ago.

"The big thing for Maryland is to keep the players in Maryland," Garvin said. "But people are always going to leave the state and go to different schools, and West Virginia has always been a place where Baltimore people go."

Said Edsall, "There are going to be some who want to get away from home, there are some who want to stay close to home. What we're trying to build here is a culture where the young men that we're looking for that have the qualities we're looking for will want to stay here. We're well on our way to establishing that kind of culture and atmosphere that guys will have more of an interest in."


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