Earlier Wednesday on National Signing Day, the Terps welcomed in a plethora of new players. 12 of Maryland’s 21 recruits are on defense, as the coaching staff placed a heavy emphasis on that side of the ball.
Four of those commits are four-star recruits, giving the Terps a Top 20 nationally ranked class by both ESPN and 24/7 Sports. Linebacker Demeioun Robinson, defensive lineman Taize Johnson, linebacker Branden Jennings and defensive tackle Tommy Akingbesote headline Maryland’s haul on defense. Jennings’ commitment is another example of head coach Mike Locksley and his staff’s ability to flip prospects late in the recruiting cycle as he was initially committed to Florida State and then Michigan before pledging to the Terps.
“I think you can tell from the names we announced our focus for this season was on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the front seven,” Locksley said. I firmly believe that you need to build your program from the trenches. Last year we signed six offensive linemen. This year we took care of the defensive side of the ball and the defensive line.”
In addition to those 12 defenders, the Terps welcome nine players on offense including: three running backs, three tight ends, one wide receiver and one fullback. Two of those three running backs, Antwain Littleton Jr. and Colby McDonald, are local products who played at St. John’s College High School in Washington D.C.
Fourteen of the Terps signees are from the DMV area, another example of Locksley and his staff’s ability to keep some of the top local talent at home. While Maryland does a strong job of keeping in state talent, the Terps have also found success bringing in recruits from Florida. This year’s class has four players from the Sunshine State, including Jennings who’s the No. 16 overall player out of Florida.
“Anybody that knows me knows that in the 30 years I’ve coached my two main [recruiting] areas have been the DMV and I’ve recruited every part of Florida,” Locksley said. “Quite a few of our coaches have great ties down there and I think that’s what helps us most.”
Given the coronavirus pandemic, this season’s recruiting cycle has been unconventional as Locksley and his staff have had to conduct meetings virtually. These virtual meetings make it tougher on the coaching staff to form personal connections with the players and their families. However, since he was first hired at Maryland in January 2019, Locksley has been focusing on this recruiting class, as he believes that recruiting is truly a two-year cycle.
“You’ve got to be genuine, people have to like you,” Locksley said. If they like you, they buy from you. I think you have to do a good job of selling who you are and the great things that Maryland has to offer.”
While Locksley and his staff place an emphasis on being genuine, having the players validate that belief is important as well. During his session with the media, Locksley mentioned that social media posts like freshman wide receiver Rakim Jarrett’s are also important. In his post Jarrett said, “one year ago today the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.” Posts like this helps to validate the message that Maryland’s staff strives to convey with the recruits and their families.
Posts like Jarrett’s also show both recruits and their parents that young players have an opportunity to make valuable contributions early during their time in College Park. Both Jarrett and freshman cornerback Tarheeb Still were selected as Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selections this season.
The progression of these young players complemented by the 2021 class provides further hope and optimism for the future of the program.
“The best is ahead for us when you look at us being able to put all the pieces together. We’ve tried to fix the distribution of scholarships and I think we’ve been able to do that. I feel good about the way our complete roster is shaping up. Now we’ve just got to do a good job as coaches of developing these guys and putting great gameplans in place. I feel good about our defense because of the type of players that we’ve been able to recruit. I feel good about our offense.”