Cumberland Times-News

Columns

June 11, 2014

Terps look to the West, like what they see

— What a perfectly strange and wonderful weekend it was for area high school football, and we’re just a third of the way through June. Not strange in a negative way, mind you, but strange as in, boy, this doesn’t happen too often around here any more, much less twice in the same weekend.

The verbal commitments made to the University of Maryland by Frankfort quarterback Gage Shaffer on Saturday and Fort Hill halfback-cornerback Ty Johnson on Sunday are just what they say they are — verbal commitments. However, the offers Maryland head coach Randy Edsall made to both players happened on a dime after both players turned in outstanding performances at the weekend Maryland camp.

Edsall was so intrigued by Shaffer’s physical frame — 6-foot-7, 211 pounds and growing —  and with the command he has on his passes, he was sending snaps to the Falcons quarterback himself during drills. Not long afterward he was on the phone to Frankfort coach Kevin Whiteman, who, let’s just say, expressed his surprise more than once to Edsall that he would be calling him at 2 o’clock on what had been up to that point a rather lazy Saturday afternoon.

It would also be a safe bet to say Shaffer was a little caught off guard himself, saying Saturday night, “I had never been (to Maryland) before ... I was really excited and was not expecting it at all. But, obviously, it’s really good news and just a weight off my shoulders, really.”

On Sunday, the first thing Johnson did with his turn in the ring was clock a 4.4 40-yard dash. The Maryland head coach noticed; the Fort Hill head coach received a text message.

“Coach Edsall texted me, ‘Could you call me about Ty Johnson?’” Todd Appel said Monday afternoon. “We talked and he said he was going to offer Ty a scholarship 15 minutes after the drills were over.

“I was flabbergasted, I was excited. You know, I don’t hear from Randy Edsall every day. But I couldn’t be happier for Ty. He has a lot of faith, a tremendous work ethic, and he has a lot of humility. He tries to work hard to better his life and his family’s life, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic.”

Johnson attended the Maryland camp confident he would work hard enough to open somebody’s eyes. He just didn’t think about the eyes belonging to Edsall.

“I always rooted for Maryland, but I never thought personally I was talented enough to go there. I just dreamed about it,” said Johnson, whose 40 earned him the nickname “4.4” from the Maryland coaches. “I went down there hoping I could showcase my skills ... and I put it on the line. After lunch, Coach Edsall told me they were offering me and I burst into tears. It’s been a dream of mine and he made it a reality.”

True to the core, Johnson is hopeful the opportunity he and Shaffer now have will present opportunities for other players in Western Maryland and nearby West Virginia. Appel is adamant that it should, not only for players here, but for players in small schools everywhere.

“When Ty takes part in a camp like Maryland’s and turns in a great 40 and runs routes against one of the best linebackers in the state and wins 3 to 2, it shows that 1A football players are as good as anybody and deserve a chance like everybody else,” he said.

“Our kids work so hard and are as capable as everybody else. But there’s not a lot of attention when your school isn’t close to an airport because most people don’t want to make the drive out here. But through this process, I’m thankful for people who get the word out on these kids on the internet and for people like Todd Helmick who provide exposure for Ty and other kids and help them get a free education.

“At the end of the day, not many kids are going to play pro football, but they can get a free education and be thankful and do all they can do with it.”

To say all of this came out of nowhere would be the same as to say it took somebody a lifetime to become an overnight sensation. Shaffer and Johnson both earned these opportunities, but they both must continue to do so.

“Gage is a good boy, but he has to remain focused for his senior year at Frankfort,” said Whiteman. “He can’t let this get into his head. He has to be focused, do his best job and get better every day for Frankfort and for his future.”

As for Johnson, if it were up to him, his commitment would be his own little secret. There is, after all, a season to prepare for.

“He’s sensitive to his teammates and he doesn’t want to overshadow them or the goals they have as a team together,” Appel said. “He wants the team to be the main focus.

“He's a great example of what it takes and how to do it.”

Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at mburke@times-news.com

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