A few months after his team failed to hold late leads in several games, Maryland football coach Randy Edsall and his staff won three key down-to-the-wire recruiting battles Wednesday that could help hasten the rebuilding process for the Terps.
In announcing the signing of 22 players, Edsall admitted that the late decisions by linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, wide receiver Taivon Jacobs and cornerback Jacquille Veii turned what was considered by many a solid recruiting class into one that could quickly turn the struggling program around.
"To be able have three quality young men and to get them on signing date, that's special, that was really special," Edsall said during a news conference at the Gossett Team House. "You just keep going to the very end, that's what the staff did, we just kept grinding to the very end and kept recruiting to the last moment we could, and it all paid off."
The three players join wideout Deon Long, who was considered the top junior college receiver in the country last season, as well as cornerback and return specialist Will Likely, offensive linemen Derwin Gray and Moise Larose (Wilde Lake) and quarterback Shane Cockerille (Gilman) to give the Terps the 30th-best recruiting class in the country.
Depending on the recruiting service, it ranks similarly to where the Terps jumped to last winter when they signed Stefon Diggs, who became one of the most dynamic players in the country as a freshman.
One of four players from recent Washington, D.C. power Friendship Collegiate Academy in the Terps' recruiting class this year, Ngakoue chose Maryland over Florida State. Jacobs, whose brother Levern plays for the Terps, had been heavily recruited by Ohio State.
That Maryland has suffered through two straight losing seasons — winning a total of six games — might have helped the Terps given some of the traditional powers they beat out. Seeing the way Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley used Diggs didn't hurt.
"I think they saw that we're not afraid, that I'm not afraid to play freshmen. If they're the best player, they're going to play and have that opportunity, and that's not the case at every place," Edsall said. "At some positions, we still have the opportunity for that to happen. Every young man wants to try to get on the field as quickly as they can."
Likely, who grew up rooting for and hoping to play at Florida State, which recruited him, said that he chose the Terps over the Seminoles "just to be able to come in and turn the program around. You can say they've had a few down years, but they have the talent and this year we're going to show everybody wrong, that Maryland has the talent to be where they want to be at."
The late additions enabled Maryland to move up to fifth among Atlantic Coast Conference teams in the recruiting rankings for this class and, perhaps more significantly, fourth among Big Ten teams. The Terps are scheduled to join the Big Ten beginning in 2014.
"We've got to play the ACC this year for one more year and we'll focus and concentrate on that, but we have a plan and a formula that we want to go into the Big Ten with in terms of what we think we're going to be able to do and what we know we're probably going to have to be able to stop and defend," Edsall said. "We're gearing towards that this year, and we'll continue to go in that direction."
By the look of the last two recruiting classes, Edsall knows in order to contend in the Big Ten, the Terps will need to recruit players with the type of speed and athleticism Urban Meyer brought with him to Ohio State from Florida.
"I think that's one of the things when you look at this 22-member class, the speed and the athleticism I'm very impressed with," Edsall said. "I just know there's an opportunity here at Maryland, because of where we're located, to get a lot of skilled athletes that have speed and ability. What we're going to do is get the kids from this area that can make us better and then we're going to go to Florida and we're going to Georgia and then we'll go out to the Midwest to get kids that can help us."
While Cockerille will likely redshirt as a freshman — as long as Maryland can keep the rest of its quarterbacks healthy, which didn't happen in 2012 — Edsall said the Gilman star was the quarterback he wanted.
"I think that he proved himself in the things that he was involved with," Edsall said. "Biff Poggi, the football coach at Gilman, does things to help his team win football games, but Shane is a guy that can throw the ball. I think he played well in that game last night [the International Bowl]. He's a Maryland guy who bleeds Maryland."
So apparently does Long, who grew up in Washington and took a circuitous route home that included stops at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia for prep school, West Virginia for spring practice, New Mexico for his freshman season and Iowa Western, where he led the school to a junior college championship last season.
"When I got the offer in June, I committed," Long said Wednesday. "It was Maryland, Maryland, Maryland. Florida State came in, Maryland. Oregon came in, Alabama. I'm a Terp."
2013 recruiting class for Terps football
Silvano Altamirano/OL/San Diego Mesa College/San Diego, Calif.
Jalen Brooks/OLB/North Gwinnett/Suwanee, Ga.
Chandler Burkett/DL/Deane Bozeman/Panama City, Fla.
Jermaine Carter/ILB/Friendship Collegiate (D.C.)/Fort Washington
Milan Collins/DB/Bishop McNamara/La Plata
Elvis Dennah/DB/Annapolis Area Christian/Lanham
JaJuan Dulaney/OL/McEachern/Powder Springs, Ga.
Derwin Gray/OL/Friendship Collegiate (D.C.)/Washington, D.C.
Andrew Isaacs/TE/Manchester/Manchester, Conn.
Taivon Jacobs/WR/Suitland/Camp Spring
Moise Larose/OL/Wilde Lake/Odenton
Will Likely/DB/Glades Central/Belle Glade, Fla.
Deon Long/WR/Iowa Western/Washington, D.C.
Yannick Ngakoue/OLB/Friendship Collegiate (D.C.)/Bowie
Kingsley Opara/DL/Mandarin/Jacksonville, Fla.
Jarrett Ross/DB/Charter School of Wilmington/Newark, Del.
Jacquille Veii/DB/Avalon School/Gaithersburg
Cavon Walker/OLB/Friendship Collegiate (D.C.)/Washington, D.C.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun