On Oct. 4, Stone Bridge High School’s football team was able to coast to a 55-7 victory over Rock Ridge High School, but for three-star Class of 2021 WR Tai Felton, the win came with a major setback.
“I was on punt return, so my mentality was ‘I’m trying to score’,” Felton told Testudo Times. “I reversed field a good two-three times and the last time I reversed field, I tried to make a plant with my left knee, and my knee gave out. I heard it crunch three times — I just fell to the ground — and I didn’t know what happened.”
A trip to the doctors the next day revealed news that any athletes dreads to hear; Felton suffered a torn ACL and a lateral medial tear.
For many recruits, an injury in high school can spell disaster when trying to find a home at the next level. But for Felton, it revealed the true colors of some programs vying for his pledge and provided separation.
“When I got hurt, schools had died off, but Maryland was the one school that stuck with me through this whole process,” Felton said. “They’ve been checking up on me, giving me updates.”
The connection between Felton and the Terps began in the spring and summer of this year — with defensive line coach Delbert Cowsette leading the charge in this recruitment — and an offer was eventually extended on September 22.
“I’ve been on the phone with coach Locks three times,” Felton said. “And when he first found out about my ACL, he straight up told me ‘We don’t care. We know you’re going to come back stronger,’ and that’s what really got me because no school really said that. Coach Locksley was very determined that he knows I’ll continue to get better.”
Felton and his family got on the phone with Cowsette last Thursday night, came to the decision that Maryland was the right place to be, and ultimately committed to the Terps.
Despite his injury, Felton made a trip to College Park to watch Maryland host Michigan on Nov. 2 and came away impressed with the gameday atmosphere.
“Even though they lost the game, I still liked the environment,” Felton said. “I got good vibes from the school.”
The Terps have been recruiting the 6’2, 172-pound Felton as a wide receiver at the next level, and there is confidence that he can make an impact in the offense.
“I’m a playmaker,” Felton said. “I can play slot receiver, I can play outside receiver, I can play over the top. I think my route running is higher than others, and my ball tracking — I can go get the ball no matter what.”
In the meantime, Felton will undergo surgery on Monday Nov. 25 on his left knee and subsequently begin the rehab process.
Former NFL defensive back and near-Maryland position coach DeAngelo Hall has been someone helping Felton through this injury process — as he suffered his fair share of serious injuries towards the tail end of his career.
“Last year, one of my coaches was DeAngelo Hall, and he had torn his achilles,” Felton mentioned. “He was just going through the mental process with me. And I have other coaches that have gone through the same thing, so they know how to go about this process and make sure that I’m keeping my mind right.”
Felton anticipates being cleared in late-July of next year and bouncing back to complete his senior season, while also working to solidify the Terrapins’ 2021 class — which now ranks No. 31 in the nation with three commitments.
“DMV to Maryland, that’s the move right now,” Felton said. “Now I have to try and get some other guys to hop on board.”