Maryland football coach DJ Durkin talks about the team's recruiting class. (Don Markus/Baltimore Sun video)
With the March 12 start of spring practice for the Maryland football team less than two weeks away, Terps coach DJ Durkin appeared on Glenn Clark Radio on Monday to look back and gaze ahead.
Below is a transcript of his remarks on his first year in College Park, local recruiting, making a bowl game, the team's quarterback battle, and the NFL draft prospects of Will Likely and Jabrill Peppers.
On the most surprising thing of his first year
"It's gone really fast. It's been good. It's been enjoyable. I've really liked the direction we're headed, and I think we're taking all the right steps. It's been exciting. It's been action packed. But I think what makes it good is having a great staff. We were able to assemble a really good staff here and we've continued to tweak that and make it better and better. I think that's been great for us. We're looking forward here to Year 2. We're in the middle of winter workouts, about to start spring ball in about two weeks, and everything's going good."
The Durkins have made six moves since they were married in 2002, and spent no more than five years in the same place. That was at Florida, where both of their children, 6-year-old Abigail and 3-year-old Luke, were born. The Durkins hope their latest move, to Maryland 11 months ago, lasts a lot longer.
"We've really worked really hard at it. It's a daily thing. Every day, we work on recruiting, in particular in our own area. It's constant, it's every day, because there's no mistake made about it: Our formula is going to be try to keep as many guys around here at home that we can to come play for the local team and the team that represents our area. And if we do that, I think we can end up competing with anyone in the country, because there's enough talent here to do that.
"So more than just talking about it, saying it, it's a daily thing for myself and our staff. We're involved with it, whether it's with the players themselves, coaches in the area, trainers, all aspects. We work at it, and having a great staff helps. There's a lot of guys on our staff that have local ties to the area that know people around here and have done a tremendous job recruiting."
On how the staff celebrates big recruiting wins
"When you look at what this program offers, we have anything and everything you can get anywhere else. We're building a facility that'll be the nicest in the country. We play in the Big Ten — the Big Ten East, there's no higher level of football coming out of high school. You look at our coaching staff and where we've been and been able to do. What the degree means here and where we're ranked as a university is very impressive.
"You go down the list, you can get anything and everything you want right here, so that is the expectation. We're going to recruit and get the very best players from our area right here."
On the importance of making a bowl game in his first year
"It was really big. It's become kind of a benchmark in college football: Did you make it to a bowl game or not? And in our first year, to double the win total and make it to a bowl, I think it was good. Obviously, there was a lot I wish we could've, should've and would've done better, but to make it to that bowl game was big for us. We've just got to keep building on it. The next step after that was the recruiting class we just signed. And now we've got a really young team; we played 16 true freshmen last year, and then we're bringing in 28 new guys to the program right now.
"So you look at that, I mean, whatever it is, two-thirds of our program is going to be in their first or second year of being here. What we have to do is do a great job now developing them, developing our guys and getting them ready to go play and compete, and I think our talent and ability, we've really done a good job upgrading them and we'll be there, but now it's developing a young team and getting them to play with confidence and play with the technique and fundamentals we talk about."
On whether he's had any time to relax
"The unique thing about college football is, even if you build in some time off for a vacation or whatever, recruiting never stops. That's daily. You may be physically somewhere else, but you're not far from your phone, ever, because you've got to make sure you're staying in touch and up to date with what's going on. Because I tell the staff all the time, too, 'If you're not talking to them, someone else is.' It stays that way. …
"I really like our team and the guys we have, and there's a bunch of guys that have really bought in to what's going on and they're working hard, and all they want to do is have some success and be good, so we're doing everything we can to make sure we have that happen for them."
University of Maryland football coach DJ Durkin talks about the importance of spring practices. (Don Markus, Baltimore Sun video)
On the team's quarterback battle
"It's open competition. The good news is, although they're true freshmen [Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager], they both have game experience. They both played this year for us. It's neck and neck. They're going to have every opportunity to go win the job and equal opportunity.
"And then you mix in Caleb Henderson, who's a transfer for us. He's an older guy. He was a highly recruited, very talented player. He had to sit out last year because of transferring [from North Carolina]. So he's certainly right in the mix, too.
"There's no separation or deciding factor yet. That's what spring ball is for, and to be honest with you, that'll carry on in to preseason camp. Because then we have Kasim [Hill] coming in as a freshman; he's going to have an opportunity to compete for us as well. The good news is, I think we're really talented at the position. When you look at it, there's some guys there that a lot of people were recruiting them, and for the right reasons. They certainly have the ability. It's a matter of who's going to perform the best and [who] we feel can help our offense execute at the highest level."
On the possibility of a two-quarterback system involving Pigrome
"I'd never rule anything out like that. We're always going to do whatever is best. However we feel we can effectively move the ball and score points is what we're going to do, whether that's run heavy, pass heavy, two quarterbacks, one quarterback, whatever combination that is.
"I think one of the best parts about Walt Bell, our offensive coordinator, is [that] he has that ability, he has that confidence, to not just say this is what I do and what I'm going to call. He can mix it around. You look at us last year, we were definitely more slanted toward the run game, probably, than what he's ever really been, even though he's been effective wherever he's been. That was what we needed to do, that was how we were built, and that was it. So we'll certainly make those tweaks and those decisions as we go and have a better idea of who we are."
On Pigrome and the importance of big plays
"It's all about identifying who the guys are that, when the ball's in their hands, can make something happen with it. That's really, I think, what the game of football is really becoming. And especially with our offense, you're a spread-type team, so you're trying to get the ball in someone's hands in space, and then when you do that, you need guys that can, when they're in space, make someone miss and go do something with it.
"So you can certainly throw Pigrome in that category, and fortunately for us, I think we've really improved in that category with the guys we're bringing into the program. That was something we need more of. It's hard — I wouldn't just say nowadays, really, anytime before — it's hard to sit there and consistently drive the whole field 5, 6 yards at a time. That's a hard thing to do. At some point, you're going to get off track or have a play for loss, and all of a sudden, now you're behind the sticks.
"When you see explosive offenses and teams that can score a lot of points, it's usually because they have dynamic players that, when the ball's in their hands, can make something happen and, all of a sudden, you can gain yardage in chunks. You have explosive plays, and that really changes the game."
On NFL draft prospect and former Maryland cornerback-returner Will Likely
"You're getting one of the best competitors I've ever been around. You're getting a guy that obviously has dynamic ability … with change of direction and speed and quickness and vision in the return game as well as ... tremendous coverage skills and ball skills on the defensive side of the ball.
"There's a lot of things he can do for your team. He's a great person. He's a student of the game. He works as hard or harder than anyone that you'll have on your roster. And like I said, to me, in this game and in recruiting, you're always looking for guys that, if you can figure out a guy's a competitor, competitors rise to the top of whatever environment they're in. Yeah, there's some limiting things with Will in terms of his size and height or whatever, but he'll overcome all that with his competitiveness. That's just who he is, and he'll be a tremendous asset to any organization that decides to bring him in."
"Obviously, I think his talent speaks for itself on the field. I think one of the things that stands out, he's one of the hardest workers on the team. When you take a guy that has great talent who's willing to put in the work and be coached and get better, that's how you get the great players that everyone knows and hears about. That's what he is. There's a lot of things he can do. I think him going to the right place that has a good plan in place for what he's going to play and what he's going to do, so he can specialize and get great at something, I think will really help him. But he's as good as they come."