The letters came in the mail as frequently as credit card applications, sometimes as many as two or three a day. Each was addressed to Mount Hebron senior defensive lineman Aaron Maybin, handwritten and signed by Penn State assistant football coach Larry Johnson.
May 1, 2005
Just a brief note to let you know how much I enjoyed watching you work out and run at Nike camp. I was really impressed with your attitude to be the best. Great job. I hope I get a chance to coach you. Hope all is well.
Hope to see you again soon,
When Maryland's coaching staff began recruiting the top football prospect in the Baltimore area as vigorously as Johnson was, Maybin already had about 10 scholarship offers from other schools, including Penn State, where he will play this fall.
"By that time, we were already trying to narrow it down," said Mike Maybin, Aaron's dad. "They [the Terps] weren't really being considered."
The bowl-bound Nittany Lions have gained instantaneous recognition for their 10-1 turnaround season and surge to No. 3 in the national rankings. Their recruiting efforts in Maryland have been bolstered even more so by the early success of standout freshman receiver Derrick Williams, a native of Greenbelt and graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High, and the man who recruited him - Johnson.
Recruiting specialists say this is the first year in Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen's five seasons that Penn State has challenged the Terps for the talent in their backyard. Maryland's staff, though, is quick to point out it already has oral commitments from six players in the state, including highly touted tight end Drew Gloster (Good Counsel), whose first scholarship offer came from Penn State.
"Last year, Maryland won the job in-state," said Mike Farrell, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com who specializes in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "They kept a lot of kids Penn State was trying to get, except for Derrick Williams. He's had quite a bit of a ripple effect on everything that's going on in the state of Maryland. This year it's much more of a battle, and Maryland is losing ground.
"It's the perfect storm for Penn State. They got Derrick Williams last year, this year they end up going 10-1, they're in a BCS bowl. ... Things couldn't have laid out better for Penn State or worse for Maryland."
Dave Sollazzo, Maryland's recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach, disagreed.
"We're doing very well in-state," he said by phone, on a recruiting trip to New York. "We also have three commitments from the state of Pennsylvania. ... It's just a matter of how you spin it."
One of Maryland's biggest catches last year was Randallstown's Melvin Alaeze, who is rated a five-star defensive end by Rivals.com. He is at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, though, working on his eligibility along with Lackey running back Morgan Green. Though both have given oral commitments to the Terps, it's not uncommon for other schools to continue recruiting committed but unsigned players. It's possible, though, they could join Maryland's football program in time for the spring semester, which begins in January.
Other top players from the state among the Terps' commitment class of 2006 include: defensive back Pha'Terrell Washington (Westlake), linebacker Adrian Moten (Gwynn Park) and defensive back Brandon Jackson-Mills (Northwest-Germantown). Those kinds of commitments are why Sollazzo said the Terps aren't losing any ground.
"We're not concerned about it, and the reason we're not concerned about it is because we're targeting certain kids, and they're targeting certain kids," Sollazzo said. "It just depends on supply and demand, like any other big business. We can only take so many kids, and the ones we're targeting, we're doing very well with."
The three Maryland lost to Penn State, though, are considered among the best in the state. Linebackers Navorro Bowman (Suitland) and Bani Gbadyu (Quince Orchard) are both four-star athletes. And, of course, there's Maybin.
He said he was lured to Penn State by its recent success, by Johnson's persistence and honesty, and by Williams.
"I had been to Maryland a bunch of times," he said. "I could've had a very successful career there. I feel like that's a great school, but when it compares to Penn State, it really wasn't that hard of a decision for me. I was that sold on Penn State.
"There are a lot of guys in Maryland I talk to on a regular basis that are pretty high on Penn State and excited about what they've been able to do this year. I'm trying to get all of them to come."
There are still five undecided players ranked among the Rivals.com preseason Top 25 in the state who are giving the Nittany Lions serious consideration. One of them is Antonio Logan-El, a four-star offensive lineman from Forestville who is also ranked the top player in the state by Rivals.com. He originally committed to Maryland as a sophomore but told the staff he wanted to re-evaluate his decision as he grew older, developed as a player and more schools began to notice him. (The others are offensive lineman J.B. Walton of Lackey, defensive back A.J. Wallace of McDonough, defensive tackle Phillip Taylor of Gwynn Park and defensive back Nathaniel Ricks of Gwynn Park.)
Although Logan-El said Maryland remains at the top of his list, he has also received phone calls from both Maybin and Williams trying to persuade him to join them in State College. Still, Logan-El said he will not buy into the notion that he should go there just because his friends did.
"I'll tell anybody on any given day that just because a friend of mine has chosen a school does not mean I'll choose it," he said. "I use the old method that one man's medicine can be another man's poison. Just because it's the right fit for Navarro and Aaron, doesn't mean it's right for me."
Logan-El said he will decide Jan. 23, after he has retreated for a weekend with his family.
Sollazzo said Maryland has been specifically recruiting offensive linemen and cornerbacks - the same positions Penn State recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary said he is after.
McQueary said the Nittany Lions are looking for five offensive linemen, four defensive ends and four defensive backs who can contribute immediately.
"If you're a DB or you're an offensive lineman and Penn State is recruiting you, there is no doubt you're going to have an opportunity to play in 2006 and compete to play a lot of football," McQueary said. "Not only does the impact of playing time appeal to a kid, but the other thing is Penn State is good, and they're good with a young team. So they're going to be good for a couple more years."
One of the biggest assets for Penn State in Maryland has been Johnson's ties to the area. He was head coach at McDonough for 19 years - the same school four-star cornerback Wallace attends. Wallace, the No. 3 player in the state, visited Penn State earlier this month.
Johnson was also head coach at T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, Va. He and Maryland are also both recruiting Gwynn Park lineman Taylor, the No. 6 player in the state.
Gwynn Park coach Danny Hayes, who has 10 players on his Yellow Jackets team who have been offered Division I scholarships - including wide receiver Quintin McCree, who recently committed to Maryland - said they aren't looking at a 5-6 (Maryland) record or a 10-1 (Penn State) season - "They're looking at Larry."
"It's not the record that gets the kids, it's Larry who's coming into the house and talking to the parent, assuring them he's going to take care of their kids. Basically, it's the honesty of Larry."
Maybin has kept every letter Johnson sent him in a box big enough to store a television. And the mail keeps coming:
It was great to see you last week up at the school. Like I told you many times, I'm so excited to have you be a part of our family. Now your biggest challenge is just ahead of you. Stay strong.
I hope to see you soon,
Coach Johnson. firstname.lastname@example.org