Whenever Elijah Daniels passes a football field in football-mad South Florida, he knows what he's going to see. Another player will be out in the heat of the day working out and honing his skills in the hopes of improving himself.
It doesn't matter if he's a sophomore trying to crack the varsity roster or an upperclassman aiming for a college scholarship. Daniels, a three-star defensive back from Davie, Fla., who signed his letter of intent to player for Maryland on Wednesday, knows the competition is out there in his home state.
"I'll say 100 percent that this is the best place to prepare yourself for the next level every single day," said Daniels, a three-star defensive back who signed his letter of intent to play for Maryland on Wednesday. "You can't really slip up going out, training at camps, the combines. There's always going to be a good player everywhere you go in South Florida … It really prepares you to get better."
Coach DJ Durkin's first recruiting class at Maryland had a distinctly Florida flavor to it with seven Floridians signing to play in College Park. Last season, Maryland's roster had six players from Florida on it across all classes. With a wealth of talent available in the Sunshine State and a coaching staff with plenty of connections — Durkin spent five seasons coaching at Florida — Wednesday could be the beginning of a major pipeline opening on the East Coast.
"We kind of view Florida maybe as our second home," Durkin said.
Six of the top 50 recruits in the 247sports Composite rankings were from Florida. Among Rivals.com's top 100 prospects, 16 hailed from Florida. There's consistently top level talent coming out of the state, especially from the Miami area. And though there are only so many blue chip prospects every year, the area also manufactures a significant number of mid-level recruits, such as the five three-stars Maryland signed.
"Florida's open to everybody," 247sports.com director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong said. "You've just got to go in there and find your guys. … There are so many good players that come out of the Sunshine State. They don't all go to Florida, Florida State, Miami or the SEC, yet they still find their way into developing into Sunday players."
Elijah Daniels and his twin brother Elisha, who also signed with the Terps, are from Davie, Fla., just outside of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Two-star defensive end Dion Goldbourne and three-star cornerback Antwaine Richardson are from further up the coast in Delray Beach, Fla., and then three-star safety Tyrek Tisdale and three-star running back Laderrien Wilson are from Orlando, Fla., and Saint Cloud, Fla., respectively.
Two-star defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight is from outside of Tallahassee, Fla., in the Florida panhandle.
"Florida guys are ahead of everyone because all the teams that we play down here, there's competition. … You have a couple good teams in every state," Wilson said. "But in Florida, the majority of the teams are good with kids that are good."
"I think it's the style of play that the state of Florida brings," said T.J. Jackson, Jackson and Richardson's coach at Atlantic High School. "I think the competitiveness in the state of Florida, the speed in the state of Florida, the work ethic that most of these kids have down here in the state of Florida is great as well. There's a lot of competitiveness that they bring to the table, their swagger that they bring.
So Durkin and his staff — wide receivers coach Chris Beatty, defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim and others have Florida connections — are tasked with selling Maryland down south. Durkin said Wednesday that he and the other coaches leaned on connections they had already in the region because of the short amount of time they had to fill out their class. The coaches turned to high school coaches and other people they could trust to do evaluations in two months that they otherwise would have spent upwards of a year on.
And it yielded a Florida contingent that helps needs at defensive back, running back and defensive line.
'It's just about Maryland putting the time into the state," Wiltfong said. "With the guys on staff, it's obvious they're going to do it, and you can see that they're doing it with guys that they're committing here late."
Elijah Daniels said Maryland been on his radar because of cornerback Will Likely, who starred at Glades Central High School in Belle Glade, Fla. Daniels said his father went to high school with Likely's father, so Daniels went to watch Likely's high school games before he developed into a record-setting return man and All-Big Ten Conference cornerback. It made an impression on Daniels who kept following Likely's career after he came north in 2013.
Now Likely will be Daniels' tutor, one Floridian to another, the fruit of Maryland's labor in the area over the past two months. The Terps are becoming a known commodity in the area, and they'll be relying on their Florida prospects to help them keep up in the cutthroat Big Ten East division. And those who will make the trek to College Park think they can make it happen.
"I think we're going to change the program around," Wilson said. "Florida guys, we always find a way to get it done."