Maryland spent the final months of the 2020 cycle locking down talent across the junior college ranks to help fill key positional needs with older, more experienced prospects. Among the junior college signees were four prospects from Independence Community College last cycle in guard Johari Branch, who is a prime candidate to fill the void at left guard left by Sean Christie, linebacker TJ Kautai and defensive linemen Mosiah Nasili-Kite and Ami Finau. The Terps landed two more junior college prospects on the February signing period when offensive tackle Amelio Moran and defensive tackle Almosse Titi made their verbals official. Meanwhile, versatile defensive back Jakorian Bennett will be leaned on as a potential starter in the Maryland secondary that features plenty of youth in four sophomores—Deonte Banks, Nick Cross, Vincent Flythe, and Lavonte Gater.
The philosophy is no surprise to Maryland fans as head coach Mike Locksley said last December that “bringing in the junior college players on both sides maybe expedites the development stage a little quicker.” Maryland will lean on that experience to take a step forward in year two, but Maryland’s 27-man class could give Maryland more impact players outside the junior college ranks.
Five freshmen played through their redshirts last season as linebacker Cortez Andrews, wide receiver Isaiah Hazel and defensive backs Deonte Banks, Nick Cross and Lavonte Gater all played in more than four games, which begs the question which incoming freshmen are most likely to follow suit. As we assess the depth charts, we take a look at four freshmen who are prime candidates to see ample time all season.
Running backs Peny Boone & Isaiah Jacobs
Two clear choices, Boone and Jacobs were big signatures for Maryland last cycle as they will double the number of scholarship running backs for position coach Elijah Brooks this season. Maryland does return a pair of veterans in Jake Funk and Tayon Fleet-Davis who can help carry the load for the freshmen backs, but the incoming duo help round out a versatile room. Like Funk, Boone can use his 6-foot, 230-pound frame to run between the tackles, but the soft hands and elusiveness is what makes him the complete back as the staff can use him in passing packages.
Jacobs, meanwhile, showed his explosiveness in space during his junior year as the Oklahoma running back brings the speed to College Park. Maryland fans have enjoyed the depth at the position in recent years, and the depth helped the Terps’ run game stay afloat despite injuries to three of the five backs last season. This year, the perfect balance of experience and youth will give running backs coach Elijah Brooks a chance to redefine the run game.
Wide Receiver Rakim Jarrett
The biggest surprise from last December’s early signing period came when elite St. John’s (DC) receiver Rakim Jarrett flipped from LSU to Maryland. It was a commitment that not only helped Maryland and head coach Mike Locksley charge into the 2021 cycle with ample local momentum, but gave wide receiver coach Joker Phillips a game-changing wideout in a deep room.
The quick-twitch receiver is crisp in his routes as he does a good job getting separation and has the skillset to play inside and out. That gives the offensive staff flexibility as senior DJ Turner will likely start in the slot with Dontay Demus and Darryl Jones or Jeshaun Jones along the outside. When he makes the move into the two-deep remains to be seen, but the staff has flexibility to use Jarrett a number of ways to get him the ball. Though he headlines the unit, Maryland added more speed in Deajaun McDougle and Nick DeGennaro, while local receiver Corey Dyches gives the Terps a complete receiver that can stretch the field in single coverage. But Jarrett gives Maryland an exciting new receiver to watch.
Linebacker Ruben Hyppolite
Maryland fans rejoiced when Florida linebacker Ruben Hyppolite committed last April as his addition helped give the Terps a building block inside. The Florida linebacker was scheduled to enroll early in College Park, but will now head into summer on a level playing field with the incoming freshman. What makes the 6-foot, 225-pound special is his explosiveness and ball pursuit that the WILL linebacker plays with. Hyppolite can cover in space and is a great open field tackler, which makes him a prime candidate to slide into an increased role in year one.
Senior linebacker Shaq Smith could shift from the JACK to interior linebacker, giving Maryland a chance to deepen their interior linebackers alongside juniors Chance Campbell and Ayinde Eley. Sophomore linebacker Fa’Najae Gotay stepped into a bigger role last season as the backup WILL linebacker, but don’t count Hyppolite out to make his way into the two-deep.
Safety Osita Smith
The backline should develop into a strength this season as the Terps welcome back veteran safety Antwaine Richardson. He will likely be joined alongside sophomore phenom Nick Cross to amplify the Terps' ball skills as the secondary looks to turn the page from 2019. Junior Jordan Mosley does give the safeties experienced depth as he and Cross continue to battle it out, but the addition of four safeties help round out the position.
Maryland signed a pair of local products in Osita Smith and Beau Brade, while Mosley's younger brother, Shane, is on his way to College Park. Meanwhile, the Terps identified an underrated safety out of Florida in Glen Miller to help give safeties coach Jon Hoke more support. Smith, originally a member of the 2019 class, showed off his downfield pursuit and acceleration as he flashed as an athletic defender as a senior at Wilde Lake (Md.) and now, he'll look to bring that to College Park. Meanwhile, Brade has the ball skills and downfield pursuit to make an impact in run support day one as he and Smith continue to add to their frames. Brade and Smith could be the two to push each other as they compete for reps and a spot in the two-deep, but the Terps will lean on a young star to capitalize on their reps.