On national signing day in February, new Maryland head football coach Mike Locksley reiterated the importance of a strategy that has been repeated constantly for years: recruit locally.
"The DMV has become a hotbed and very fruitful area for recruiting," Locksley said Feb. 6. "Prince George's [County] … has produced a great number of big-time players over the years and we continue to see that trend."
Two of those standout local players, running back Anthony McFarland and cornerback Tino Ellis -- two of 11 DeMatha graduates on the roster -- are set to lead the team on both sides of the ball this fall.
McFarland, a Hyattsville, Md., native who graduated from DeMatha in 2017, is a rising redshirt sophomore. He rushed for a team-high 1,022 yards in 2018 and is now the consensus No. 1 back with the departure of Ty Johnson.
"Just getting bigger, stronger and faster," McFarland said of his preparation for a second college football season. "Last year, watching Ty -- how he practiced, how he played, learning leadership skills that he did and he had. [I am] just basically doing the same thing, just taking everything that I learned from him and just applying it to the team, not just the running back room, but the whole team."
Maryland's crop of running backs will once again be one of the most talented position groups for the Terps. McFarland said he expects the team's running backs to create mismatches for the defense all over the field in offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery's new system. Maryland's other backs include redshirt juniors Jake Funk and Lorenzo Harrison III (DeMatha), as well as juniors Tayon Fleet-Davis and Javon Leake and senior Ikechukwu Ogwuegbu.
"We've still got a lot of pieces," McFarland said. "We are going to miss Ty, [he was] a big part of the running back room but we just keep reloading. Everybody's going to play a big part this season, so I'm excited about that."
Locksley said he plans to use utilize the entire running back depth chart, just as he did at Alabama.
"What I've always worked toward is using my best players as often as I can," Locksley said. "I feel good about the depth that we have at that position. ... They all have some strengths, [and] we have to develop processes and plays to make sure we keep all those guys involved."
Ellis, a rising senior from Reisterstown, Md., graduated from DeMatha in 2016. He will fill the leadership void in Maryland's secondary left by Darnell Savage Jr., who is one of the top safety prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft.
As a junior, Ellis intercepted one pass and defended 12 others. His offseason has been smooth under the direction of Locksley and new cornerbacks coach Cory Robinson.
"So far he's set a standard and he's holding guys accountable for their actions," Ellis said of his new head coach, adding that a pre-existing relationship with Robinson, who previously served as Maryland's director of player personnel in 2015, helped ease the transition into a new defensive system that will rely more on man-to-man coverage than his first three years in College Park, Md.
McFarland also has a new running backs coach with whom he has a long-standing relationship. Former DeMatha head coach Elijah Brooks was hired as the Terps' running backs coach in December, creating yet another connection between Maryland and the high school that sits just three miles from campus. DeMatha won four straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference titles under Brooks from 2013-2016.
"He's a guy that's well-respected in this area," Locksley said of Brooks, whom he's known for years, having recruited him at Maryland when Brooks was a running back prospect at DeMatha in the early 2000s. "Obviously, the relationships he has in the area locally with the way recruiting is at this level ... and how he's managed and been able to keep the DeMatha program moving forward really impressed me."
McFarland recalled getting a phone call from his father, Anthony Sr., when Brooks was hired, and he said he couldn't contain his excitement about the chance to link back up with his former head coach.
"He's a hell of a coach and I'm excited for him," McFarland said, adding that Brooks hasn't changed since he last coached McFarland in 2017. "... He's going to be hard on you coaching. Whenever you're doing good, he's going to tell you. And whenever you're slouching, he's going to get on you. That's the best thing about good coaches."
McFarland and Ellis see themselves as more than products of a "stay at home" movement at Maryland; they are actively recruiting other local players to play for the Terps, too. McFarland said he texts current DeMatha players regularly, acting as a recruiter to convince more players to join him and Ellis at Maryland.
"We're trying to get people -- not just at DeMatha -- but just people that go to school in Maryland," McFarland said. "You don't have to go far, you don't have to go to a big-time school to accomplish what you want to accomplish, whether it's the NFL or your dream job, just anything. You can do it in your backyard."
Another DeMatha product, consensus four-star defensive back Nick Cross, will join the team this fall after signing with Maryland a few days after national signing day. He originally had committed to Florida State.
Ellis, who started all 12 games at cornerback last year, said Cross could make an immediate impact on defense.
"I'm excited to have him with us," Ellis said. "I know he's going to contribute to the team. That's going to be big for us. ... We definitely have to keep the pipeline open and keep guys coming through."
Photo Credits: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 253: April 2019
Originally published April 15, 2019