When Joshua Kaindoh announced a top-four list of teams that didn't include Maryland on April 20, he surprised just about everybody. But six high school juniors were already in on what turned out to be one of college football's most covered ruses.
Shortly before his top-four release, Kaindoh, the Maryland native and five-star defensive end at the IMG Academy in Florida, told teammate and Maryland four-star commit Cam Spence that he had decided on the Terps.
Maryland's five other verbal commits already had a sense of Kaindoh's decision, too. Kaindoh sent them a group text in the middle of last week to make official what Spence already knew: that he'd commit to Maryland on Saturday.
"He just texted us all and just told us," four-star quarterback commit Kasim Hill said. "We were all excited, and then we were just all waiting for this day."
Kaindoh and Spence are both Maryland natives. On IMG's spring break in March, they came home, and they visited with DJ Durkin and his staff while they were in the area. Kaindoh's decision, Spence said, came shortly afterward.
"We both had talked about it," Spence said. "We said, ‘We really wanna do this thing. We really like it.'"
Spence announced his commitment to Maryland just a few weeks later. He stayed on Kaindoh hard, and Kaindoh told Spence shortly before his top-four went out that he'd be coming to Maryland, Spence said. Kaindoh couldn't be reached for comment on this story, but several other Maryland commits participated in and then confirmed this version of events.
But Kaindoh wanted to have some fun with his decision, so he decided to plant a red herring: announcing a Maryland-less top four, even after he had already made up his mind. The named teams were Ohio State, Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan.
"We kind of planned out how the top four and all that was gonna go, and it was kind of his idea to kind of surprise everyone and take Maryland out of his top four when he announced his top four schools," Spence said. "I already knew he was coming to Maryland."
The goal was, quite simply, to keep people on their toes.
"Yeah," Hill said. "That's what he was going for, I'm pretty sure."
The non-Spence Maryland commits already had a sense Kaindoh was leaning this way. Once Kaindoh looped them all in via group text, they became part of the joke, and they played along effectively.
Reached at the end of last week, two Maryland commits said they had no knowledge of Kaindoh's decision-making process. Another said he'd spoken to Kaindoh regularly and couldn't "see him wanting to come here." One just wanted to "wish him the best." On the surface, it was a convincing show that Kaindoh wouldn't be coming to Maryland, even as recruiting analysts started to sniff something. It was a confusing process. (Full disclosure: Your author was certainly fooled at first.)
"We all knew that he was gonna be coming. We just wanted him to have his day, because I know a lot of people are trying to figure stuff out and all that," Hill said. "We just wanted him to have his day and be able to enjoy it without anyone knowing 100 percent."
Maryland's coaching staff wasn't surprised, either. The Terps expected to land Kaindoh by the time Saturday came around, a source close to his recruitment said, and coolly waited for Kaindoh's 3 p.m. announcement. But when it came, the only people who were certain of what would happen were Kaindoh, his closest friends and family and Maryland's six prior commits. The deal was already sealed, though.
"It was fun for us," Spence said. "It was just fun to see how everyone else around the country reacted when he put his top four out, and a lot of people thought he was gonna put Maryland in his top four. It was fun to see how everybody was gonna react and the comments and stuff that came with that."
This was just stagecraft. But it means much more than that for Maryland, and the Terps' other commits are keenly aware of how big a deal Kaindoh's commitment could turn out to be.
"I think [Saturday's] commitment went a long way and opened people's eyes even more to what's going on in College Park," Hill said. "And I think there will be more coming."