Last week’s early signing day made for a fun time for Baltimore-area recruits with over 40 football players heading to Division I colleges. Six are headed to College Park to play for the Terps.
Three players — fullback Joseph Bearns III, defensive end Terrance Butler Jr. and defensive end ZionAngelo Shockley — are from nationally ranked St. Frances. The other three have their roots in the competitive Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association: running back Roman Hemby at John Carroll, defensive back Dante Trader Jr. at McDonogh and defensive back Jayon Venerable at Archbishop Spalding. All six players are 3-star prospects, per 247 Sports.
“Ever since I was younger, I’ve always wanted to go to Maryland,” Shockley said. “It was my dream school. When I got the offer, I already knew where I wanted to go.”
Terps senior linebacker Shaq Smith, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Jaelyn Duncan, freshman offensive tackle Ja’Khi Green and junior defensive lineman B’ahmad Miller all attended St. Frances. Duncan has been a key cog in Maryland’s offensive line, playing in 18 games.
Bearns played tight end in St. Frances’ run-heavy scheme, paving the way for current Michigan running back Blake Corum. Corum rushed for over 1,400 yards in 2019, and Bearns often was his lead blocker. He’ll look to fill a similar role as a fullback for Maryland.
Considering how well former MIAA and St. Frances standouts have transitioned to Maryland’s roster, the fit made sense for the player who 247Sports ranks as the 39th best in Maryland.
“It’s a life-changing moment. So I’m really excited about it — it’s definitely important,” Bearns said. “I know that they really like it and they like everything that’s going on. I know it’s a hashtag on Twitter that’s called #SFA2UMD. It’s going to be a fun time once I get up there, especially since I know a lot of people that go there.”
Butler began his high school career as a two-sport athlete, then focused on football,generating nine scholarship offers as 6-3, 220-pound defensive end.
“When I first changed from basketball to football — I’m not going to lie — it was tough,” he said. “Especially while going against some of the top players in the country. Every practice was hard, but [the St. Frances’ coaching staff] talked me up and helped me to become the player that I am. I still have got a lot of work to do.”
Thirteen of Maryland’s 14 signees in the class of 2021 are from Maryland, Washington, or Virginia. Keeping homegrown talent in the area has become a high priority for coach Mike Locksley, who is from Washington and attended what is now Towson University. Running backs coach Elijah Brooks was DeMatha’s head coach in the neighboring Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, putting together a 72-20 record and winning four consecutive championships from 2014 to 2017.
Many of the players, like Trader, who will play football and lacrosse in College Park, take comfort in knowing that the coaches come from the same places they do.
“Staying home is a big thing for me and for them,” said Trader, a cornerback who looks forward to joining current Terps redshirt sophomore wide receiver DeJuan Ellis as the next McDonogh graduate on the team. “It’s just something that should be done to make Maryland the best thing around. [Committing to Maryland] is just always something that I wanted to do.
“None of my family members or anyone pushed me to want to do it. They support me in where I want to go. They’ve known that since I was a kid, I wanted to go to Maryland. Things didn’t change — I don’t care if they’re the worst team or anything, I just love that school and what it means to be a Terp.”
Trader will play in the same secondary as Venerable, who shared a defensive backfield in high school with with Penn State signee Zakee Wheatley. In July 2019, Venerable became the first Maryland commit of the class of 2021 and said he stuck by his decision due to Locksley’s determination to turn the Terps into a football power.
“Coach Locksley put into perspective what he wanted to build at Maryland and it got me very fired up,” Venerable told the Capital Gazette after committing. “I believe in Coach Locksley and his vision for the program, and I want to be part of that.”
Maryland showed signs of improvement in its COVID-19-shortened season, finishing 2-3 overall and in the Big Ten. Locksley’s offensive scheme is predicated on a number of versatile skill position players, and Hemby, who had 729 rushing yards and 348 receiving yards, hopes to be one of them.
“As the game changes in college ball, running backs play slot and do a lot of different things,” Hemby said. “I want to be a hybrid. I always looked up to Alvin Kamara [of the New Orleans Saints] because he’s positionless, but he’s on offense. So, coming in playing running back, ‘Hey. Go to slot.’ I want to be able to be able to impact my offense, impact my coaches and not be a burden. I want to be a running back that can do anything at all times.”