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Maryland's Michael Locksley brings in homegrown assistant coaches to recruit homegrown talent

Former DeMatha High coach Elijah Brooks was one of four assistants with local ties new Maryland coach Michael Locksley hired for his staff.
Former DeMatha High coach Elijah Brooks was one of four assistants with local ties new Maryland coach Michael Locksley hired for his staff. (Maryland athletics)

The first time Michael Locksley recruited Elijah Brooks, the DeMatha High running back decided he would see the field a lot faster at William & Mary than at Maryland.

“I wasn’t good enough to play here,” Brooks recalled Wednesday at Maryland Stadium.

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Locksley’s second recruiting job on Brooks was more successful. It came shortly after Locksley was hired as Maryland’s coach in early December.

Brooks, who had been DeMatha’s coach for the past eight years, became the first assistant to join Locksley’s staff, this time as the running backs coach.

Three others with local ties followed: cornerbacks coach and defensive passing game coordinator Cory Robinson, a 2005 graduate of Cardinal Gibbons High; defensive line coach Delbert Cowsette, who will coach the position he played for the Terps from 1995 to 1999; and special teams coordinator and inside linebackers coach John Papuchis, who went to Quince Orchard High in Montgomery County.

“It was absolutely one of the first things that drew me to Coach Locksley, having the opportunity really for the first time in my career to come home, that was important to me,” said Papuchis, who spent the past four seasons as an assistant at North Carolina after serving seven years at Nebraska. “I grew up a Terp fan. “As far as how important it is to have local guys, I think it’s critical. Maryland has a great natural recruiting base. In the [Delaware-Maryland-Virginia] area, it’s one of the best talent bases for high school football in the country. The key is to keep ‘em here and the key to recruiting is relationships. Having people who have those relationship, it’s a lot easier to recruit people that you know.”

Locksley also hired two recent Maryland players, former quarterback Caleb Rowe and former linebacker Matt Robinson of Columbia, as graduate assistants.

Along with their on-field coaching abilities, Locksley is hoping that the connections of his assistants to the high school coaches and players in the area will help the Terps sign the kind of recruiting classes that will give Maryland a chance to do something it hasn’t done since its first season in the Big Ten in 2014 — be competitive in the league’s highly competitive East Division.

“Obviously, with some of the guys that do have local ties … there’s been some natural relationships that have been there in the past,” Locksley said after practice Tuesday. “Bringing in guys like coach [offensive coordinator Scottie] Montgomery and [co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers] coach [Joker] Phillips, who’ve recruited this area, has also helped.

“But we still have some work to do as a staff in creating those really strong relationships with the high school coaches, the high school players, all the trainers and mentors in this area. We’ve got to get them to become huge Terp fans and help us be able to lock down this area and keep the top players here.”

The immediate benefit of having so many coaches with local ties — starting with Locksley, long considered one of the top recruiters of players from Baltimore, Washington and Northern Virginia — won’t be known for several months.

That Maryland was able to get four-star safety Nick Cross, who played for Brooks at DeMatha, to flip from Florida State to the Terps on national signing day in February was a good sign.

Brooks thinks that how Maryland performs on the field next fall could be an integral part of how successful the staff is in recruiting.

“I think a lot is going to depend on us coming out and playing well, putting a good product on the field,” Brooks said. “That will definitely help with this class. But doing what we can to secure commitments in this area, in the surrounding areas, will be very important.”

While Brooks moved just down the street from DeMatha, it has been a homecoming of sorts for the other three assistants with local ties.

Robinson grew up in Baltimore and, after finishing his college career at Central Connecticut, returned to his hometown, coaching at both Calvert Hall and St. Frances before starting his college coaching career as the director of player personal at Maryland in 2015. He spent the past three seasons leapfrogging from Toledo to Temple to Rutgers.

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“Obviously when you’ve got a guy like Mike Locksley, who’s arguably been the best recruiter in this area in college football for a long time, recruiting’s going to be A-1,” Robinson said Wednesday. “I think it’s important to have a staff of guys that understands that.

“It’s a plus you have guys that have actually walked some of these hallways and walked some of these streets and driven some of these different highways for a long time. It allows you to go out and represent the University of Maryland in that capacity as well.”

Cowsette certainly did. Starting his career under Mark Duffner and finishing under Ron Vanderlinden, Cowsette was part of Terps teams that won only 15 of 44 games in four seasons. But it was in the latter stages of his career that he met Locksley, who served as the team’s running backs coach and recruiting coordinator in Cowsette’s last two years.

Similar to the feelings that Locksley had after coming back from Alabama, where he had been on Nick Saban’s staff since 2016 and served as offensive coordinator last season, Cowsette said after spending the past five years at Albany: “Everybody talks about where their dream job is, to have a chance to play here and to come back, this is the job that I wanted. This is the only job that I wanted. To come back is almost surreal.”

Cowsette, who stayed in the area while playing for the Washington Redskins for two years as a seventh-round draft pick in 2000, said that some of the parents of players he’s recruiting remember him from both Maryland and the NFL.

“Some of the parents do remember me, it’s kind of funny,” Cowsette said. “It’s good having that name recognition, who you are and what you’ve done and what type of person that you are. Recruiting is about people, it’s not necessarily about what you’ve done. It’s about how you affect people, how you communicate and how people respond to you.”

Locksley is hopeful that Maryland’s recent struggles — along with the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair last summer — will not prevent him from rebuilding the program. So far the Terps have received commitments from three three-star prospects, including offensive lineman Jordan White of DeMatha and wide receiver Corey Dyches of Potomac High.

According to the 247 Sports Composite rankings, the Terps’ Class of 2020 recruiting class is 11th in the Big Ten and 53rd nationally.

Still, Locksley seems hopeful from what he is hearing by those who remain uncommitted.

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“There haven’t been many that tell us they want to see how the season goes,” Locksley said. “Obviously there’s a natural hesitancy with a wait-and-see approach in recruiting and us just getting here. The recruiting cycle is now two and three years out. There’s some guys that maybe we hadn’t been recruiting with me being down at Alabama.

“Since we’ve been here, we’ve really tried to make up some ground, especially with this 2020 class. We feel really good that we’ve got some guys that have have made decisions to come be a part of it and I think their influence as guys that people really respect as football players in this area that can go out and spread the word.”

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