One of the worst seasons in Maryland football history made no difference to Mike Williams. The Terps’ 2-10 campaign last fall didn’t bother DeAndre Lane, either.
All that mattered to Williams, a lineman from Archbishop Spalding, and Lane, a record-setting running back from Catonsville, was that their hometown school selected them to be part of a potentially unprecedented turnaround built on local players.
Said Lane: “They have been recruiting a lot of local kids from around the area, and I like being part of a local movement. They made it feel like a family atmosphere for me.”
Williams and Lane, who both committed to Maryland on Sunday, were part of one of the biggest recruiting weekends in program history. The Terps also landed pledges from three Friendship Collegiate (D.C.) standouts in offensive lineman Derwin Gray, outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue and inside linebacker Cavon Walker. The five-man haul over a three-day span vaulted the Terps’ nine-member 2013 recruiting class to the No. 32 spot in 247Sports.com’s national team rankings.
For at least one scout, Maryland’s weekend recruiting binge has been a long time coming.
“The key with Maryland was to recruit local talent,” said JC Shurburtt, 247Sports.com’s national football recruiting analyst. “I think if you do that, considering the level of football in the state and in D.C., and the amount of upside a lot of these kids have, you’re going to do OK in the ACC. And I think that was a big step toward doing that.
“I think they’ve established some momentum for the Terps. This, combined with getting [Good Counsel wide receiver] Stefon Diggs at the end of last year, is huge. Things are definitely looking up from a talent acquisition standpoint for Randy Edsall and company.”
In the wake of Maryland’s disastrous 2011 season, Diggs’ post-Signing Day announcement provided a much-needed glimmer of hope for Terps fans. Shurburtt said the five commitments this weekend is just a continuation of an encouraging recruiting trend. While all five commitments are from Maryland or Washington, all but Lane were considering other BCS-level scholarship offers.
Gray and Ngakoue were consensus four-star prospects who could have gone almost anywhere in the country. Friendship Collegiate coach Aazar Abdul-Rahim said Gray is a “prototypical left tackle” and “one of the most athletic linemen” that Maryland will have on its roster. 247Sports.com’s No. 35 player in the 2013 class picked the Terps over offers from Florida, Tennessee, Nebraska and Rutgers.
Ngakoue, who picked Maryland over Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Oklahoma, Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee, should be a perfect fit as an outside linebacker in the Terps’ 3-4 defense. Abdul-Rahim said the 6-foot-2, 240-pound player is a “can’t miss prospect” because of his versatility.
Walker, who missed his junior season with a foot fracture, picked the Terps over North Carolina State and Purdue. Maryland was the first school to offer him a scholarship.
Abdul-Rahim said he “wasn’t surprised” that his three players – who will follow former Friendship Collegiate running back Albert Reid to College Park – all committed within a day of each other.
“They all have their motives for why they did it,” he said. “It just so happened to time up during the weekend. All of them felt strongly about Maryland from the beginning. … All of them have a good chance to play early if they do what they’re supposed to do. A lot of them look like college players right now.”
First-year Terps offensive coordinator Mike Locksley was the point man in dealing with the Friendship Collegiate trio – although Abdul-Rahim credited Edsall for offering all three players even before Locksley was hired. Having the former New Mexico coach on staff was certainly a major selling point for Walker.
“I was already ready for Maryland,” Walker said, “but he came and kind of pushed me towards Maryland.”
Shurburtt said recruiting is all about relationships, and bringing Locksley – a former running backs coach under Ralph Friedgen – back to Maryland has done nothing but strengthen the program’s ties to D.C. and Prince George’s County schools. Having someone so connected locally makes it easier for recruits to overlook recent on-field struggles.
“I think in recruiting, you’re either selling what you have or what you’re going to have. I don’t think you sell what you’ve lost,” Shurburtt said. “A lot of the time it’s about building relationships [with] who you trust. As they say, it’s a 40-year decision, not just a four-year decision. You want to have the highest comfort level possible. With Locksley and Coach Edsall and the new staff, it’s sort of the direction with the program. I think that makes a lot of people comfortable.”
For Lane and Williams, committing to Maryland essentially represented a lifelong dream come true. Lane, a second-team Baltimore Sun All-Metro selection who rushed for 1,728 yards and 21 touchdowns as junior, went a month without hearing from Maryland coaches. But once the Terps extended a scholarship offer Sunday, he committed on the spot. Williams, who considered an offer from Boston College, earned his Terps scholarship working out at offensive tackle during Maryland’s camp this weekend. He also committed immediately.
“I feel like Coach Edsall has a plan, and little by little it’s already coming out,” Williams said. “It takes time building, and that’s what he’s doing – building.”
Adding Gray, Lane, Ngakoue, Walker and Williams to a class that already includes Gilman quarterback Shane Cockerille, Wicomico linebacker Derrick Hayward, Charter School of Wilmington (Del.) defensive back Jarrett Ross and McEachern (Ga.) offensive lineman Jajuan Dulaney is an excellent start to the 2013 class, Shurburtt said. How the Terps fare over the rest of the summer and into the fall will determine how quickly the rebuilding process takes shape.
After this past weekend’s flurry of local activity, just about anything for Terps football recruiting suddenly seems possible.
“I don’t remember anything like this happening [with Friedgen] or last summer at Maryland specifically,” Shurburtt said. “I think with regards to this type of thing, at least as it relates to Maryland, it was unexpected. But at this point, you never know – maybe this becomes a yearly thing.”