The recruiting class that Maryland signs to letters of intent tomorrow is supposed to be the best the Terps have had in five tries under coach Mark Duffner. It has depth and quality, but it is missing one thing -- a prospect from the Baltimore metropolitan area.
For the second straight year, the Terps will not sign a local player. Baltimore is not considered a hotbed for football talent, and in recent years, the premier prospects in the area have taken a sure date for New Year's over a chance to help Maryland, which last went to a bowl game in December 1990.
Dunbar's Tommy Polley, the area's top prospect, visited Maryland, but he'll go to Florida State, where he'll also play basketball. A year ago, Duffner pushed hard for McDonogh quarterback Bobby Sabelhaus, but the Parade All-American went to Florida. Two years ago, the Terps were in the running for Poly wide receiver Greg Kyler, but he's at Tennessee.
During the past decade, Maryland has had only two winning seasons, and Duffner recognizes the difficulty of recruiting against programs that are aiming for a national championship.
"We want to get as many local players as we can," Duffner said. "As we continue to win, it's going to help our chances. I know that one of the factors that's made it difficult is that Maryland hasn't been more consistent."
Duffner has had little luck with local talent.
Maryland has one area player on scholarship, but the career of Troy Fowlkes, The Sun's Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 for North County, is on hold because of asthma. Only two other locals have signed with Maryland since Duffner took over the program in late 1991, and Arundel's Richard Abrams and Wilde Lake's Andre Martin dropped out after one season.
Mike Working, who built top-ranked teams at McDonogh and Mount St. Joseph, said Maryland can't afford to spend too much time recruiting here.
"Their job isn't to recruit local kids. It's to win games," Working said. "High school football in the Baltimore area is not very good right now. Since the Colts left, there have been no facility improvements in Baltimore. This year, some people let the ball drop, and there was no city-county all-star game. That hurt some kids."
Targeted as a top prospect in football and basketball as a high school sophomore, Polley didn't need an all-star game to get noticed. Although Dunbar has several alumni playing basketball for the Terps, Florida State's sales pitch included basketball's Sam Cassell, a former Poet, and football's 11 straight bowl wins and a national championship in 1993.
"It's hard for Maryland to compete against the traditional powers for a kid like Tommy," Dunbar football coach Stanley Mitchell said. "They made an honest effort to get Tommy, but he had his mind set early that he wanted to go south."
Last season, Duffner had to deal with a major distraction, the NCAA suspension of quarterback Scott Milanovich, then a 2-5 finish that stopped Maryland's bowl chances. Mitchell said that negative publicity didn't affect Polley's decision. An on-campus incident, however, may have cost Maryland another top local recruit.
Hammond cornerback Tim Spruill visited Maryland the first weekend in December, when a group of players, entertaining recruits, roamed residence halls where they weren't invited. As a result of the incident, junior receiver Mancel Johnson was arrested, charged with two counts of theft and suspended from spring practice and the Terps' first two games next season.
"The campus police contacted every recruit that visited that weekend," Hammond coach Joe Russo said. "Timmy's mother was upset with the whole thing. Maryland recruited Timmy right up until the time he committed to Virginia, but after that weekend, that was it for Maryland."
Negative publicity hasn't affected Maryland in the Washington area, which produced nine of last season's starters.
The Terps and Virginia Tech are the finalists for running back Damone Boone, a Parade All-American from Springfield, Va. Last week,
Maryland received a commitment from wide receiver Moses Cruz, who attends Montgomery County's Seneca Valley. The other state player to commit to Maryland was Mike Hull, a defensive lineman from South Hagerstown.
The Terps intended to award 23 scholarships, but since freshman linemen James Boyle and Derrick Bunting withdrew from the university, they can award the NCAA annual maximum of 25. They will save a scholarship for Al Hawkins, a quarterback from Elizabeth, N.J., who will delay signing until after the June baseball draft.