Long before Michael Locksley became Maryland football’s head coach, he had established himself as an ace recruiter in the greater Washington, D.C., area. He was instrumental in bringing the likes of Stefon Diggs, Vernon Davis and Shawne Merriman to the Terps. Dwayne Haskins has said he would’ve enrolled at Maryland had the program kept Locksley on staff following the 2015 season. When Locksley was hired in December 2018, he said he wanted to “build a wall” around the DMV to keep local talent home.
For the most part, though, Locksley’s first full recruiting class was devoid of that local flavor. Maryland watched 14 of the top 15 players in the state commit elsewhere by the end of June, and the Terps were forced to find prospects from around the country. Their 2020 class featured seven players from Florida and just four from Maryland.
“If we can get to where we control the DMV, we probably won’t have to go out as far,” Locksley said on early signing day in December 2019, “but we’re a national brand, and if these local guys don’t think our program is good enough, we’ll find them somewhere else.”
There was one glaring exception. Rakim Jarrett, a five-star wide receiver from St. John’s College High School in D.C., flipped his commitment from LSU to Maryland on that early signing day, immediately becoming the headliner of the Terps’ recruiting haul and the latest player hopeful to start a trend of DMV talent flowing to College Park. In Jarrett and Nick Cross, a four-star DeMatha safety who flipped to the Terps late in the 2019 cycle, Locksley had two local stars to build momentum around.
That momentum has continued in the 2021 cycle, as the Terps’ recruiting class features 15 commits and ranks 11th in the country, per 247Sports team ratings as of May 29.
Class rankings this early in a recruiting cycle don’t mean that much, as most programs’ class sizes will double between now and the signing periods. But Maryland is clearly doing something right. Twelve of its 15 commits are from the DMV. The average 247Sports Composite rating of those pledges is 0.8722, which would be the highest in recorded program history if it stands. Here are four early takeaways from the class Locksley has put together so far.
Maryland is loading up on the defensive line.
As of this writing, the Terps’ five highest-rated commits are defensive linemen, and four of those recruits are rated as four-star prospects by at least one recruiting service.
Demeioun Robinson, the nation’s No. 58 overall player and No. 3 weak-side defensive end, pledged to the Terps March 27. The Quince Orchard High School product is just the third top-60 prospect to commit to Maryland since 2014, joining Cross and Jarrett. Robinson, like Jarrett, paid homage to Diggs in his commitment announcement, saying there was no better place to play than home.
This defensive line class already featured four-star St. John’s (D.C.) defensive tackle Taizse Johnson, who committed Jan. 26, and three-star St. Frances (Baltimore) defensive end ZionAngelo Shockley, who pledged Feb. 1. Maryland then secured a commitment from four-star defensive tackle Marcus Bradley, Robinson’s Quince Orchard teammate. And the latest addition is the May 27 pledge of defensive tackle Tommy Akingbesote, who’s currently a three-star prospect according to Composite rankings but has been boosted to a four-star, top-150 recruit by 247Sports itself.
Throughout the last several years, Maryland has made unsuccessful runs at a slew of local defensive line stars. The Terps had a commitment from five-star prospect Joshua Kaindoh in the 2017 class, but he flipped to Florida State before that cycle concluded. They couldn’t convince DeMatha’s Chase Young to stay home. They couldn’t compete with the powerhouses for Damascus’ Bryan Bresee, the nation’s top overall 2020 prospect. In a related story, Maryland’s defensive line has struggled since moving to the Big Ten. The pass rush has been virtually nonexistent the last three seasons, while the interior line has looked too small for a conference so physical.
This position group had long been established as an area of focus for the 2021 class. And Maryland has addressed the need and then some, amassing what should remain one of the best defensive line hauls in the country this recruiting cycle.
The pipeline is strong at several local powerhouses.
As mentioned above, 12 of the 15 commits in the Terps’ 2021 class are from the DMV — the program has eight pledges from Maryland, three from D.C. and one from Virginia.
The three D.C. recruits — Johnson and three-star running backs Antwain Littleton and Colby McDonald — are all from St. John’s, which is consistently loaded with top-end talent (Maryland signed Jarrett from there last cycle). Robinson and Bradley are from Quince Orchard, one of the state’s premier public-school powers. Shockley and three-star tight end Joseph Bearns are from St. Frances, one of the top private-school programs in the country. Akingbesote and three-star tight end Leron Husbands both hail from C.H. Flowers High School in Upper Marlboro.
Rounding out the local commits are cornerback Dante Trader Jr. (McDonogh in Owings Mills), athlete Jayon Venerable (Archbishop Spalding in Severn) and wide receiver Tai Felton (Stone Bridge in Ashburn, Va.). The only three pledges from outside the DMV are JuCo linebacker Gereme Spraggins, Pennsylvania tight end CJ Dippre and Florida tight end Weston Wolff.
There’s little reason to think this trend won’t continue. Maryland is targeting players from plenty of well-known local programs. The staff has strong local connections, most notably running backs coach and former DeMatha head coach Elijah Brooks. There’s also the added variable of a pandemic — with no in-person recruiting and the status of the 2020 season unclear, more prospects might stay home than usual. Locksley would have no issues there.
There’s still room for another headliner.
One thing this class doesn’t yet have is a quarterback. Maryland didn’t sign one in the 2020 cycle, and as of right now, it only has two scholarship signal-callers guaranteed to be eligible for this coming season: veteran Josh Jackson and redshirt freshman Lance LeGendre. Incoming transfer Taulia Tagovailoa and LeGendre, both four-star prospects from the 2019 class, could potentially combine to hold down the position for the next several years. But this is Maryland, where a staggering quarterback injury history means more help will always be needed.
Maybe that will come from Gonzaga’s Caleb Williams, the No. 1 quarterback and No. 4 overall prospect in this class. He’s announced a top three of Maryland, LSU and Oklahoma, and while a program-altering commitment seems unlikely, it’s not entirely out of the question.
There isn’t an obvious fallback to Williams at the position just yet, but Locksley and the staff expect to add at least one signal-caller in the 2021 class.
These recruits can’t change Maryland’s fortunes immediately, but they’re part of a positive trend.
Maryland went 3-9 last season and closed on a seven-game losing streak, bringing Locksley’s career head coaching record to 6-40. The team then lost two running backs to the NFL Draft and plenty of contributors to graduation or transfer. The 2020 Terps don’t have much scholarship depth at quarterback or running back, and both lines remain question marks. The team didn’t even get to start spring practice before the coronavirus pandemic sent everyone home from campus. And if there’s a season, Maryland will face another gauntlet of a Big Ten schedule.
But the building blocks are clearly in place. LeGendre and Tagovailoa give the Terps two quarterbacks with promising futures. Jarrett highlights a wide receiver group that should also feature Jeshaun Jones, Dontay Demus, Brian Cobbs and more over the next couple seasons. The 2021 class is loaded with defensive linemen, the 2020 class had four-star linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II and the 2019 class had Cross at safety. The program’s mantra that “the best is ahead” — often expressed via the hashtag #TBIA — becomes easier to believe with each new addition.
It’s a pandemic, and hope is at a premium. Locksley and Maryland have succeeded in providing just that.
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