Randallstown senior Melvin Alaeze, who is rated the nation's top defensive end by Rivals100.com, said yesterday that he has committed to play football at the University of Maryland.
Alaeze, The Sun's All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year, announced his choice through Randallstown assistant coach Evan Murray from San Antonio, where he played in yesterday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl for graduating seniors at the Alamodome. He chose Maryland over Virginia Tech.
His father, Dinma Alaeze, said during the past month Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen and Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer visited "the school and the home."
"The decision was a really difficult one," said Dinma Alaeze, "and Melvin was really torn. But it finally came down to where he can have more impact right away.
"We have been very concerned about his academics, so being close by, being at Maryland, we feel we can keep an eye on what he is doing. We can always be reassured that Maryland is close to home, and having spoken to Maryland's coach, Ralph Friedgen, we know they will keep an eye on him as well."
Although Alaeze had narrowed his picks to the Terps and the Hokies, also in the running were Penn State, Ohio State, Miami and Southern California. "People said, 'Why not go to a winning program like USC, or Miami? Why not play for a national championship caliber team?'" said Alaeze, who's 6 feet 3, 275 pounds. "But I also want a program where I can have an immediate impact."
Maryland emphasized its need for help at defensive end and the possbility that Alaeze will have a chance to play right away. Shawne Merriman, the Terps' strong-side defensive end in 2004 and a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, has decided to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
That will leave a major void on defense, one that could be filled by Alaeze or returnees Jack Griffin, Omarr Savage, Trey Covington and Mack Frost - none of whom received significant action in 2004.
"I feel that they [Terps] have coaches who will want to work with me from the time I get there to the day I leave," said Alaeze. "They'll [players and coaches] stay on top of me, show me what I'm supposed to do when I'm around school to make me a better person."
An All-Metro player as a junior, Alaeze raised his stock during a trip to a spring combine at New Jersey's Meadowlands. Weighing 270 pounds at the time, Alaeze impressed recruiters with his speed and strength. He performed extremely well during drills in which he was matched against two of the nation's highly touted offensive linemen.
After entering the year ranked No. 1 at defensive end by Rivals100.com, Alaeze said he received 55 scholarship offers from Division I programs.
At Randallstown, Alaeze rarely left the field, playing linebacker, defensive end, tight end, wide receiver and running back. He rushed for 351 yards and five touchdowns, caught 17 passes for 257 yards and three scores and was the Rams' kicker and punter, averaging 40 yards per punt.
Alaeze has worked his bench press up to 350 pounds, and he is playing center on the Rams' basketball team.
"One of the reasons I'm playing basketball - even though some people say I shouldn't and that I should get ready for college football - is that it helps to keep my feet quick and keeps me in shape," Alaeze said. "I know I need to get a little stronger so that I can muscle up with other linemen, then I'll be fine."
Even though he excelled in football, there were times this season when Alaeze heard criticism, particularly after losses to Eastern Tech and Hereford.
"There were some games where things just weren't going my way, where I didn't see too much action and didn't play to the best of my ability," Alaeze said. "But a lot of times, like if I was playing inside, they'd make a fake to the inside and pass to the other side so I couldn't get a good pass rush on. It was those times where I think some people might see it as, 'he's not doing too much in the game.'"
Randallstown coach Albert Howard said there were those who believed Alaeze occasionally "took plays off."
"But I wouldn't say Melvin did that as much as you see [teams] running away from him and he's chasing the play, or then you see teams running at him, but their linemen are double- and triple-teaming him," Howard said. "He came into the season with all these accolades and athleticism, and people expect him to make a play on every down of every game."
Howard said Alaeze had to adjust to his bulk, having entered the season 20 pounds heavier than he was as a junior. "It took Melvin some time to get used to the extra weight, and then he got into a groove, got into more of a rhythm as the season wore on," Howard said.
Although Randallstown finished 7-4, Alaeze's skills were evident to those who scouted games, said coach Scott Chadwick of two-time state runner-up Lackey of Charles County.
"I saw that he once ran a 4.65-second 40 time - that's almost defying the laws of nature. He's a freak of nature. To have the speed and quickness and agility he has at his size is absolutely amazing," said Chadwick. "The fact that he transfers that raw athleticism into being a football player is awesome. Once he's in college and can focus totally on being a defensive end, I think he'll really blossom. I think you will see a higher jump in his ability over the next four years."
Staff writer Kevin Van Valkenburg contributed to this article.