Earlier in his career at Maryland, Terps senior defensive lineman Roman Braglio was approached by former defensive coordinator Brian Stewart about a recruit the coaching staff was starting to zero in on. Once a standout at McDonogh, Braglio was asked if he knew anything about another Eagle coming up through McDonogh's pipeline.
"Coach came up to me and said, ‘What do you think about Josh Woods?' I was like, ‘Josh Woods?'" Braglio said. "I started [saying], ‘He's a smart kid, good kid, works hard.' And then I went home and looked up his highlight tape, and he's killing kids on the football field. To see him doing well like that was awesome."
Braglio and Woods, a junior defensive back at Maryland, never played on the same team at McDonogh. Braglio, who graduated during the spring of 2012, played varsity ball while Woods, who graduated in 2014, was on junior varsity. Braglio, a defensive end in Maryland's current scheme, played offensive and defensive line as an Eagle. Woods played mostly receiver at McDonogh, but was recruited as a cornerback and is now a safety.
Braglio was a two-sport star at McDonough, excelling in football and wrestling. He racked up a total of 25 sacks during his last two years. The three-star recruit on Rivals.com drew interest from West Virginia, Penn State and Virginia, but ultimately decided to stay at home.
"Roman now and Roman then, two totally different Romans -- and I think Roman changed for the better," Woods said. "He was a good guy, he was like the older kid on the team. He was just so good at wrestling. He was popular. Roman now, he's like really down to earth. He's a great guy; he's really humble. Roman is actually one of my better friends on the team. We hang out a lot."
Woods was a senior on a McDonogh team that went 11-0 in 2013. The Eagles beat Gilman, 37-6, in their season finale to clinch the MIAA-A conference title. Woods caught a touchdown and had an interception during that game. McDonogh went 3-8 when Woods was a junior, but he said the 2013 iteration "had a ton of great athletes" and was "stacked" under head coach Dominic Damico.
Both Braglio and Woods are embodiments of the process it takes for most players to become major contributors in a college program. Braglio redshirted in 2012. He recalled walking onto campus at about 230 pounds -- not nearly big or strong enough to compete in the trenches at the college level. Braglio was part of the defensive line rotation in 2013 and 2014 and became a starter in 2015. He had 35 tackles and three sacks last year.
Woods, however, didn't redshirt. He played a lot of special teams in 2014 and 2015, and he competed for a starting safety spot this spring and fall. He narrowly lost out to senior Denzel Conyers for the spot alongside sophomore Darnell Savage Jr. Conyers, though, tore an ACL during a 30-24 double overtime victory at Central Florida Sept. 17, pushing Woods into a starting role.
"It goes for any kid in college football, it's a process, and you've really got to trust it," Braglio said. "People don't realize how much time really goes into playing football. I didn't realize it at all. At McDonogh, there's nowhere close to the same amount of work or preparation that goes into it."
Braglio has had a terrific year thus far, starting all five games, recording 12 tackles and two sacks as of Oct. 14. He had a big game against Purdue Oct. 1, posting four tackles and two sacks. There may have been a reason for that production -- he was finally playing without a cast on his left hand.
Braglio revealed after the game he broke the fourth metacarpal in his left hand during the Terps' season opener at Howard Sept. 3, forcing him to wear a cast on his hand against Florida International and UCF. He said he struggled playing with a "big, giant club on his hand," which meant he was "pretty much just poking people."
Terps defensive coordinator Andy Buh was impressed Braglio played as well as he did with a cast.
"Playing defensive line with a cast on your hand is very hard to do," Buh said. "Everything that we do is based off of getting your elbows in, thumbs up and grabbing cloth and getting off blocks. What he's been able to do with a cast on his hand is pretty remarkable. With him getting some extra mobility in his fingers and getting some of that stuff off his hand, we'll probably see some more things out of Roman. He improves every week."
Woods made the first start of his career against Purdue, which made for two McDonogh products on the starting defense. Woods made one tackle and broke up a pass. He also made one tackle in relief of Conyers Sept. 17. Woods said he didn't want his opportunity for the starting job to come because of injury, but once Conyers went down, Woods told himself he had to "ball out for Denzel" and that "he's not going to go down in vain."
Buh was confident Woods would be able to handle the position when Conyers' season ended.
"He's been neck-and-neck in that competition all the way through spring and fall camp," Buh said Sept. 28 ahead of Woods' first start. "I ... just told him eyeball to eyeball that I'm really excited about him stepping into that role and that he was ready. He gave me a big smile back and said, ‘I can't wait, Coach.' We're pretty fired up about that opportunity for him, as we would be for any guy that gets into that role."
Braglio and Woods aren't the only big contributors on the team from the Baltimore area. There are three other McDonogh products on the team in freshman kicker Mike Shinsky, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Ellis McKennie and sophomore receiver Michael Cornwell. Those three, however, have not played a role on game day to this point.
Additionally, senior running back Kenneth Goins Jr., junior linebacker Shane Cockerille and sophomore Melvin Keihn all went to Gilman. Senior defensive lineman Azubuike Ukandu attended Towson High; senior receiver DeAndre Lane, Catonsville; junior left guard Mike Minter, Severna Park; junior defensive lineman Malik Jones, Dunbar; and junior kicker Adam Greene, Broadneck.
Maryland head coach DJ Durkin continues to stress the importance of keeping local recruits at home. Durkin said Baltimore area recruits are "critical" to the Terps and Maryland can be as good as it wants to be "just based on keeping guys at home and playing for the hometown team."
Woods said Maryland should be attractive to Baltimore-area athletes not only because of the upward trajectory of the program, but also because College Park, Md., is the perfect medium in terms of locale. It's far enough away that you're isolated from distractions back home, according to Woods, but close enough that it's no big deal to take care of something on the home front.
"[College Park is] its own little island, this little bubble, because when you're here, it's like you're away from everything else," Woods said. "I know it might seem like it's very close to home, which is actually a good thing, because if you forget something and you need to run home, it's only a 40-minute drive, so it's not that bad at all. [But] when you're here, you're here. It's like the best of both worlds, where if you want to be away, you can be away. But if you want to be close to home, you can still make that commute."
Issue 226: October 2016