HOLLYWOOD, FLA. — The player who someday hopes to be viewed as a catalyst in Maryland’s football rebirth is trying to start his own kind of movement.
Ruben Hyppolite II, a 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker, is well aware of what happened to a social media campaign that quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. and defensive lineman Adam McLean labeled #TheMovement back in 2015. He is also all too familiar with what’s happened to the Terps.
But Hyppolite is ready to change all that, starting Wednesday when he officially signs his national letter of intent at McArthur High and then a little over a month later when he enrolls early to begin both his college career and education in College Park.
Unless coach Mike Locksley is successful at flipping at least one player who previously committed to another program, Hyppolite will remain the only four-star prospect in Maryland’s 2020 recruiting class, which entered Monday ranked 35th nationally and 10th in the Big Ten by the 247 Sports Composite.
“My mindset coming into recruiting, into the last stage of my high school career, was going to a place to where I could build and be the face of something big,” Hyppolite said recently. “I felt Maryland had the best opportunity for me to do that.”
Asked what excites him about the possibility of playing for Locksley, Hyppolite said: “His mindset. He has a very strong mindset and he knows exactly what he wants to get done. Coming from a place like Alabama, he knows how to win and he knows the people he needs to win. You can’t do anything but respect that. I feel that’s what attracted me most to him.”
As the Terps were struggling to win a game after beating then-No. 21 Syracuse to start the season 2-0, Hyppolite heard the whispers surrounding his commitment.
“People were definitely questioning my commitment,” he said. “Like I told ‘em, they don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, the true definition of why I picked the school. As far as recruiting, people really didn’t understand the vision. … I didn’t worry about the outside noise of why I should have went here or should have went there. You’ve got to build the foundation before you fill the mansion. But you’ve got to start from square one. It will take time, but in a year or two, we’ll be on a great stage.”
Like safety Nick Cross did this fall as a true freshman, eventually becoming a starter midway through the season and receiving All-Big Ten honorable mention, Hyppolite is expected to play immediately. With the graduation of Keandre Jones and Isaiah Davis, Hyppolite will join a strong linebacking corps led by Shaq Smith, Ayinde Eley and Chance Campbell (Calvert Hall).
“I think it’s a huge part of the puzzle for him, that he’s going to valuable, and a commodity immediately to be developed instead of putting him on the shelf for a year or two,” said Pierre Senatus, who coached Hyppolite during his senior year at McArthur High after he transferred from private school powerhouse American Heritage High in Plantation.
“I think he’s mentally ready. ... Man-strength as an 18-year-old going up against a 21-, 22-year old can be different at times. But talk about a young man who’s going to meet the challenge in the weight room. The strength and conditioning staff is going to have a great time. The kid is going to hit all the marks and go beyond. … He has the mindset of a professional athlete as a teenager.”
Hyppolite has watched as two others in the Terps’ class recently decommited, including three-star offensive lineman Jordan White of DeMatha, who announced his decision on social media during Maryland’s 73-14 loss at then-No. 3 Ohio State on Nov. 9.
“He actually contacted me after the game, he called me and texted me,” Hyppolite said. “He just told me why he did it. No hard feelings. At the end of the day, it is business. It was the best decision for him. You can’t get mad at that. People make decisions based on what they need and want. He is trying to be successful, just like we all are.”
Asked why he needed to publicly reinforce his own feelings about Locksley and Maryland after that happened, Hyppolite said, “I’m not going to say I wasn’t concerned, but I wasn’t going wild because I knew the majority of the guys were locked in and had their mind set on Maryland.”
Senatus wasn’t surprised that Hyppolite didn’t waver because of the 18-year-old’s preternatural maturity.
“He’s been all-county, all-state, he’s won state championship and he’s been recruited by every college in the country. He’s been suited, and they tried to wine-and-dine him, but he hasn’t bitten the cheese. He’s been very steadfast in his approach,” Senatus said. “He has a vision, he’s a principle-driven young man and he has a plan. He’s been able to articulate beyond a normal 18-year old.”
It figures that one of the main reasons why he chose Maryland in the first place had nothing to do with football.
“For me, when it came to choosing Maryland, for choosing a school period, it was the area,” Hyppolite said. “I like areas that are metropolitan, they have other things to do. Really, the area caught my eye. I was excited about that."
LaQuinta Hyppolite wasn’t surprised either by the oldest of her two children sticking with the decision he made before last spring’s Red-White intrasquad game.
“He’s always been very mature. I had him in [preschool] at 18 months,” said LaQuinta Hyppolite, who has her doctorate in pharmacology from Florida State and owns a pediatric medical practice in the Miami area. “Close to two years old, he knew his ABC’s, he knew his colors, he knew how to count to 100, he even knew how to count in Spanish.”
The loyalty to Locksley and his staff — in particular defensive backs coach Cory Robinson, who first started recruiting Hyppolite when he worked at Rutgers, as well as inside linebackers coach John Papuchis — was something his mother expected.
“His word is his bond,” LaQuinta Hyppolite said. “I’ve always taught them that all you have in the beginning is your word. No one will know who you are or what you’re about until they read about you, but just representing yourself and your family and what you believe — all you have is your word. I’ve always told them to be quick to listen and slow to act because the things you do, you can’t take them back.”
LaQuinta Hyppolite, who also has a 16-year-old daughter, Nicolyn, joked that his son was “so easy, so sweet, he tricked me into having another child.”
According to his mother, Ruben was held back in third grade at a local Christian school despite the fact that he was more physically and emotionally mature than many going into fourth grade because his September birthday was past the cutoff day. As a result, Hyppolite went from being one of the youngest kids in his grade to one of the oldest, which eventually helped him in his development both in the classroom and on the football field.
Because he was always big for his age, Hyppolite typically played with kids two older than himself. He played on the same youth team with three future American Heritage High teammates, including Tyson Campbell, who is finishing his sophomore year at Georgia. He also played at American Heritage with offensive lineman Khris Love, who on Sunday reportedly flipped from Central Florida to Maryland.
After helping American Heritage win a second straight state title and fourth in five years, Hyppolite transferred to McArthur, a public school going through its own rebuild under Senatus, who two years ago took over an 0-9 team only two years removed from winning a district title. The reason: Hyppolite wanted to graduate to enroll early in college, something not permitted by private schools in Florida.
“I feel like it was going to be an advantage for me coming in early to get accustomed to everything and coming up in the summer and jumping right into the season,” Hyppolite said.
Senatus said that Maryland fans should look forward to having someone like Hyppolite as one of the team’s future leaders.
“There’s something about him. He’s a generational student-athlete,” Senatus said. “To be as intelligent and reflective, for me it’s how all our athletes can be. … He’s a very passionate young man. He’s very passionate about winning, and being successful in everything he does. He’s very competitive. He’s not ultra-vocal. He articulates, but he’s not rah-rah. He doesn’t need that.”
Hyppolite said that his football upbringing in the talent-rich Miami area will help him in his transition to the college game.
“What I can bring is a leadership and a mentality that they’ve never seen,” he said. “Just coming from South Florida, it’s a different mentality. Everybody here when it comes to football, it’s a different mode that we all tap into. I feel like I can bring that. ... I really take it seriously. It’s a different energy with us. Just change the culture, that’s the most important thing.”