The first year under head coach Mike Locksley featured its growing pains as the offensive line battled through consistency, while the defense worked through an inexperienced defensive line. That led the staff to lean on the junior college route last cycle to add experience and much-needed size to bolster the trenches, but the class of 2021 gave Locksley and company a chance to fill those needs with the elite talent in their backyard.
Maryland fans saw glimpses of Locksley’s recruiting wins in his first two cycles, securing Wise wide receiver Isaiah Hazel while edging Florida State and Penn State for elite safety Nick Cross. The local recruiting wins leading into the current cycle sparked optimism that Maryland could begin retaining the state’s top talent, but for the staff, the results were just beginning. But Locksley wasn’t shy admitting the recruiting process takes time, adding that the two-year window gave the staff “really strong and meaningful relationships with them.”
“I think this class will be the one that will be the catalyst to get the foundation to where we want it to be,” Locksley said in an interview in February. Fast-forward to now and the future of the Terps’ defense shines bright.
Archbishop Spalding (Md.) cornerback Jayon Venerable became the first to jump into the boat when he pulled the trigger in late July last summer, while McDonogh (Md.) cornerback Dante Trader made his two-sport commitment public last fall as he intends to play both football and lacrosse in College Park. Maryland turned the page from the season and made a big splash after signing St. John’s (DC) elite wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, a signing that had strong ripple effects in Maryland’s local recruiting efforts as the staff rode the momentum from Military Road into College Park into January.
Coveted defensive tackle Taizse Johnson announced his commitment to Maryland, only for Hutchinson (KS) inside linebacker Gereme Spraggins pulled the trigger. The commitments sparked key pickups as Johnson has great get-off speed and is disruptive in the middle, while the familiarity with the local program helped the staff add more physicality with Spraggins. The pair of commitments also gave the Terps more juice heading into the final weekend prior to the February dead period because just a week later, Johnson’s teammate was one of two commitments to come just a week later.
While Cadet running back Antwain Littleton became the first running back in the fold, it was St. Frances (Md.) defensive end Zion Shockley who announced his decision first as wide receiver coach Joker Phillips added another key piece out of the Baltimore powerhouse. Shockley enters his senior year as the next man up along a St. Frances defensive line that consistently sits among the nation’s top, as the 6-foot-3, 210-pound pass-rusher adds speed to the outside. His early commitment helped the staff turn to one of the nation’s top pass-rushers to become the next big piece.
The year-long recruiting efforts at Quince Orchard helped the Terps develop a sound foundation with coveted defensive end Demeioun Robinson. As the Terps battled Ohio State, Texas A&M and Tennessee among others, the connection to home slowly resonated as his recruitment played out. Johnson’s commitment aided the Terps’ efforts as the two cousins leaned on each other during the recruiting cycle. As Robinson and defensive tackle Marcus Bradley returned to campus over the offseason, the staff worked through February to solidify visit plans for both once the dead period concluded on March 1. That’s when Bradley and cornerback Ryan Barnes, a top target in the secondary, made their way back to College Park for more one-on-one time with the staff. A week later, Bradley and Robinson returned to College Park as the staff took the visiting prospects over to the Xfinity Center to take in March 8 basketball win over Michigan to clinch a share of the Big Ten title. That specific visit to campus loomed large, not only because Robinson told me at the time that the specific visit was “different,” but because less than a week later, the recruiting world came to a screeching halt as a result of the indefinite dead period as a result of the pandemic.
As Maryland turned up the heat to land the program-changing pass-rusher, Robinson made his commitment public on March 27. His commitment set the stage for Bradley, who was evaluating his top six of Ohio State, Tennessee, Maryland, LSU, Texas A&M and USC. The Terps fed off the momentum from Bradley’s offseason visits to remain in that top group and after withstanding a strong push from the Volunteers, the physical run-stopping tackle made his commitment official on May 1. As defensive line coach Brian Williams has a restocked defensive line heading into 2021, the staff continued to prioritize local fast-rising prospect out of Flowers (Md.) in defensive tackle Tommy Akingbesote.
After playing just one season of high school football, the Terps’ persistence for Akingbesote positioned Maryland to add the high-ceiling lineman. The former basketball prospect transferred from DeMatha to Flowers after his freshman year, giving Maryland running backs coach Elijah Brooks a strong connection to the agile 6-foot-4, 270-pound lineman. As Brooks and defensive line coach Brian Williams broke down the scheme fit as they developed their personal connection, Akingbesote’s visit to campus in March helped the hometown team resonate with he and his family. As Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and NC State were among the schools to throw their hat in the ring, he became the latest piece to bolster the Terps’ future front seven.
Now, the Terps enter the summer months hoping to put the finishing touches in their front seven. Maryland will hope for more good news later today when Gilman (Md.) defensive end Mattheus Carroll announces his commitment among his final three of Duke, Maryland and Virginia Tech, while there’s no doubt it’s the Terps who hold the edge for St. Frances pass-rusher Terrance Butler. As the staff plays the long game with a pair of linebacker targets in DeMatha (Md.) Greg Penn and St. Frances (Md.) Jamon Dumas-Johnson, the class shows that the plan in place to rebuild the program is working for Locksley and company.
Transition always requires patience, a trait that can seemingly become forgotten in college sports, but the local recruiting ties from the staff helped make the turnaround on the trail possible for Maryland. Rather than isolating the local recruiting efforts on their ace local recruiters like in years past, the recruit-by-committee approach by the entire staff helped build connections with the program rather than the coach. From there, it was clear transparency from Locksley and the staff.
“I do think, by me sharing some of the processes that I’ve been through as a coach, when given enough time our ability as a program to recruit players that help you win because this is a player-driven deal,” Locksley said earlier this week.
“As much as we like to think we’re gurus as coaches, it’s all about getting guys in here that have the ability to play, get them to play with great discipline and playing to a standard on a daily basis and that’s the piece that I feel pretty confident, that we’ve been able to give a clear and concise vision for how we’re going to get this program there. People see it and it’s very believable because it’s happened before, it’s happened most of the places I’ve been when I’ve given enough time to recruit and bring in the right kind of kids and help be a part of setting the culture, whether an assistant role or coordinator role.”