It's a well-known fact among Marylanders that the great football recruits may very well opt to play their college ball anywhere but their home state.
The list of Division I and NFL-level players who chose to leave Maryland rather than stay at home is a long one, and it includes names like Tennessee Titans defensive end Cameron Wake, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Tavon Austin and more recently, Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr.
Terps linebacker Shaq Smith was also on that list for most of his career, but after helping the Clemson Tigers blow out Alabama in college football's national championship in January, he transferred back to his home state to pursue a master's degree and show the state's top recruits that playing for Maryland is a good option.
"The first thing that comes to mind ... is just the power and impact that I could possibly have on the next generation of coming up," Smith said on
Glenn Clark Radio
Aug. 29. "Kids who can stay home and make that dream come true right in their backyard at the University of Maryland."
Smith played three seasons in Baltimore -- two seasons at Calvert Hall and one at St. Frances -- before moving to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for his senior year (2015). But there was a shared motivation between players like Smith and Haskins to "stay home and put Maryland on the map," Smith said, when they were making their decision on where to continue their playing careers.
That was when the Terps were in a search for a new head coach. Michael Locksley, the offensive coordinator and interim coach at the time, was being considered for the full-time job. But the school went with Michigan defensive coordinator DJ Durkin instead, and Locksley went on to become an offensive analyst under Nick Saban at Alabama.
When Locksley left, Smith's and Haskins' interest in playing for Maryland waned.
"It kind of made us look at it like, 'Well, if Coach Locks is going to a program that's established and getting the best of his career, then let's do the same thing,'" Smith said.
Three years later, Locksley returned to the Terps -- this time with the head coaching position he and many others in the state wanted him to have, and it made Smith want to come home as well.
"Just listening to him and knowing who he is as a person ... and the passion he has not only for this program, but for this whole area, you couldn't want to play more for a guy like that," Smith said.
But Smith has noticed some changes in Locksley; it's apparent to him that Locksley learned a lot at Alabama with Saban. It's similar to what he was around at Clemson, and that gets him excited for what this program could be in the future.
"He's not trying to build a winning team," Smith said. "He's trying to build a winning culture. One of the biggest things he preaches to us daily is that we have to have the right winning habits and behaviors. I can relate that to my time at Clemson. That was one of the big things that we harped on. He's learned so much through Coach Saban, and the way that he's incorporated it into Maryland, who knows where this program is gonna go?"
Maryland is not Clemson right now. There are still plenty of steps for the program to take before it gets to that level, and until it gets to that point, Maryland is going to be an underdog in many of their games, especially within the Big Ten.
It's a different feeling for Smith, but he welcomes the challenge of helping take the team in his home state to new levels of success.
"It's very exciting," Smith said. "Coming from being a guy where you're just supposed to win ... to you're not supposed to do this and that, that gives you some extra fire. I'm not playing to prove anybody right or wrong, but to prove it to myself, my university and my brothers that I fight with every day. That's the goal. We have to prove that we can do this, and it takes everybody coming together as one."
For more from Smith, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics