There will be no mistaking Maryland's 2013 football recruiting class with a 2012 group that was highlighted by five-star receiver Stefon Diggs and four-star running back Wes Brown. Star power like that doesn't pass through College Park every year.
But what the Terps' 2013 class might lack in star power, it appears to make up for in quality depth, local talent and a handful of potential instant-impact players.
Three national recruiting analysts used the same adjective when asked to describe Maryland's 2013 recruiting class, which will be unveiled Wednesday on National Signing Day:
"It's a class that I think they can continue to build off of," said J.C. Shurburtt of 247Sports.com. "It's pretty solid, but you have to kind of look at who the players are and not just the rankings. It's 37th nationally, which is very respectable."
"It's solid," said Scout.com analyst Brandon Huffman. "I don't think it's spectacular. But I definitely think it's a solid class. Given the way the season has gone the past couple of years for Randy Edsall, it's about what they could expect."
Added Rivals.com's Mike Farrell: "I think it's pretty solid. Maryland is coming off a rough season where they finished on the losing side again with all the quarterback problems and bad luck they had. To finish in the middle of the pack in the [Atlantic Coast Conference] is pretty good."
Two big names
Beyond the apparent solidity of the Terps' incoming group, each analyst was also in agreement when it came to discussing Maryland's headliners. There's no Diggs in this group, but in Iowa Western Community College wide receiver Deon Long, Maryland has found what could be an ideal complement to the team's 2012 Most Valuable Player. Long, a Washington native who caught 100 passes for 1,625 yards and 25 touchdowns in leading Iowa Western to a National Junior College Athletic Association championship, has already enrolled at Maryland and will participate in spring practice.
"That kid is a player," Shurburtt said. "When you [play Maryland], you think, 'We've got to stop Stefon Diggs, first and foremost.' Stefon had a brilliant freshman campaign, especially in the return game. You have a player like Deon Long line up opposite him, then it becomes tricky. You have to decide who they're going to try to stop. Having another guy that's got that type of ability, I think is huge for Maryland. Assuming at quarterback they find somebody to get them the ball, I think that could really open things up for the offense, especially if a guy like Wes Brown continues to develop."
With a five-star rating from Rivals.com, Long is Maryland's highest ranked recruit for 2013. But right behind the No. 1 junior college prospect in the country in the Terps' class is another Washington native: Friendship Collegiate Academy offensive lineman Derwin Gray, Scout.com's No. 81 player nationally and a four-star prospect.
"I love Derwin Gray," Huffman said. "I thought he was the best offensive lineman I saw at the Under Armour [All-America] game. Guy is a freak of nature. He's a well put together kid. … [In addition to Long], Gray is the other guy I think has a chance to maybe contribute early."
Will Likely, a 5-foot-7 cornerback from Belle Glade, Fla., who has already enrolled in classes, and Andrew Isaacs, a 6-foot-3 tight end from Manchester, Conn., are Maryland's two other incoming four-star prospects.
Local successes and misses
Beating out several national football powers for Long (Alabama and Oregon were among the schools who called) and Gray (who picked Maryland over Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma and several others) should serve as notice that the Terps will continue to be a factor in the District, analysts say. Other D.C. players expected to sign Wednesday include at least two of Gray's teammates at Friendship Collegiate: linebackers Jermaine Carter and Cavon Walker. Yannick Ngakoue, another FCA linebacker and the No. 88 player in the country according to Rivals, was once committed to Maryland but is now considering Florida State and South Carolina in addition to the Terps.
"Maryland could end up with two of the top three prospects in the District and four of the top seven," Shurburtt said. "You look at it from that standpoint, [and] D.C. is starting to put out more and more excellent players on a yearly basis. Kids are transferring to go to school there. I think they've done a good job there, which should be no surprise with [offensive coordinator Mike] Locksley in town."
However, a year after landing Diggs, Brown and Mike Madaras, Maryland had some troubles with in-state prospects. The Terps landed just three recruits — Gilman quarterback Shane Cockerille (No. 13), Bishop McNamara safety Milan Collins (No. 20) and Wilde Lake lineman Moise Larose (No. 25) — in Rivals.com's Top 25 list of Maryland prospects. (They didn't make offers to many of the players on that list, and the five players on there from Eastern Christian Academy in Cecil County aren't homegrown Maryland kids.)
"After Diggs committed, every kid in Maryland was looking at Maryland. 'Oh, they're in my Top 5.' The season came around and it was just disappointment after disappointment after disappointment," Farrell said. "What other team in the history of football has gone through five quarterbacks? They had a linebacker throwing passes at the end of the season. They really struggled to respond. I don't think there's any blame there.
"It's a pretty good year in Maryland this year, but they weren't going to get [Good Counsel defensive back] Kendall Fuller. He was going to Virginia Tech where his brothers went. The Elkton kids you can't count against Maryland because they're from Delaware. I know they played in Maryland. [Good Counsel linebacker Dorian] O'Daniel (Clemson) is a guy I think they had a chance to get, along with [Gilman defensive lineman Henry] Poggi (Michigan). It didn't happen. [Losing McDonough offensive lineman Na'Ty] Rodgers hurts. I think they had a solid year, but they're not really focused on the guys that got away. I think in Derwin Gray and Deon Long, who's essentially an in-state guy, and a five-star guy at that, they're getting difference-makers. Just not as many as they need. Even an 8-4 season wasn't going to change the minds of many kids. It's going to take more than that. They need more consistency and quite a few winning seasons in a row before you start to see them keep everyone home."
In addition to Cockerille, Collins and Larose, the Terps are expected to sign four other in-state recruits: Catonsville running back DeAndre' Lane, Dunbar lineman Malik Jones, Annapolis Area Christian safety Elvis Dennah and Wicomico defensive end Derrick Hayward. Analysts say there are plenty of sleepers to choose from among Maryland's in-state and D.C. commitments.
"I'm kind of intrigued by Elvis Dennah," Huffman said. "You have a 6-3 safety who could end up bulking up and becoming an outside linebacker. … There's not a whole lot of film on him, but the film I've seen is pretty good. He has some upside to him. He's a versatile and intriguing player."
Said Farrell: "I think the guy that made a lot of plays when I saw him was Jermaine Carter. He's not the tallest linebacker in the world, but he just made every tackle. A lot of people pay attention to Cavon Walker on that team, but I think Jermaine Carter was the heart and soul of that defense. I have a suspicion about Malik Jones as well. He could turn out to be much better than he's ranked. He's really raw but he's as long as can be. He could be a 6-5, 285-pound kid."
Farrell, Huffman and Shurburtt all have Maryland's 2013 class pegged as a middle-of-the-pack group in the ACC. The majority of these soon-to-be-signees, however, will never face an ACC team. Shurburtt thinks Maryland's skill-position players compare favorably with the best of the Big Ten, but the offensive and defensive lines must be upgraded.
"It's not across the board, not everybody, but offensive and defensive lines in the ACC are lacking," Shurburtt said. "You see that that's an area that any program in the Atlantic Coast Conference has to improve on. I think that's the key. I think guys like Malik Jones, Derwin Gray, [junior college offensive lineman signee] Silvano Altamirano, can develop. Moise Larose. Those are guys they can work with. When Randy Edsall was at UConn, that was one of the things you sort of overlooked. They were very good on the offensive line. Always very good up front. I think that they stand a good shot at getting there."
As the Terps transition into the Big Ten before the 2014 season, there's an expectation that their recruiting territory could expand into the Midwest. Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia will continue to be the priority, and the Terps will likely continue to mine Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida on occasion. But starting with the 2014 class, Maryland may venture more into the Great Lakes region.
"If they're playing games against Ohio State and Michigan, they're going to have to start selling that to take advantage of that," Farrell said. "Go into Ohio and Michigan and Illinois, places like that that have good talent, and say, 'Listen, you didn't get an offer from the school you wanted. Come here and play them every year and beat them.' ... I think you'll see a little more of a Midwest presence, a little more focused on the Big Ten. Now they can go sell someone that 'We're in the most stable conference short of the SEC in college football.' The ACC can't sell that now."
The flip side of Maryland's potential new recruiting opportunities is that the Terps must now deal with new conference foes coming into the Mid-Atlantic more frequently and competing for recruits. Huffman said Maryland just has to be prepared to "do the same thing."
"Recruiting well and making the move to the Big Ten, [Maryland is] going to become a hotter name and helps them keep moving."
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