For Terps, all eyes on a new arm; QB Harrison tops list of 21 football signees


COLLEGE PARK -- After running through a slide show on the 21 football players who signed letters of intent to play for Maryland yesterday, coach Ron Vanderlinden stopped on quarterback Latrez Harrison. After a brief pause and a grin, Vanderlinden said: "Could I say any more about this guy?"

Harrison, rated by several publications as the top high school quarterback in Georgia and among the top 15 nationally, is the prize recruit of the Vanderlinden era.

At 6 feet 3, 214 pounds, he carries the resume of size, arm strength and big-play ability, earning an open invitation to shoot for the starting job in the fall.

"Latrez is going to come here and compete," said Vanderlinden, who will enter his third season as coach. "So if Latrez can learn the system and he's the best player, he'll start. We will give him that opportunity. Quarterbacks like this don't come around too often."

Harrison, an Atlanta native, will battle two similar-type quarterbacks in sophomore Randall Jones and redshirt freshman Calvin McCall. The candidate pool dwindled to those three players after Ken Mastrole, a drop-back passer who started seven games last year but never seemed to fit in Vanderlinden's system, decided to transfer in December to Rhode Island, a Division I-AA school, to give himself a better chance at starting in his final season.

Harrison appears to be the only natural quarterback among the group. In his final two high school seasons, he threw for 3,500 yards and 49 touchdowns as he led Booker T. Washington to a 22-3 record. He phoned Vanderlinden about his decision six days ago at 11: 30 p.m., when his first choice, Auburn, received an oral commitment from another top quarterback. If his credentials prove accurate, that could mean relocation plans for Jones and McCall.

Jones, whom Vanderlinden hinted could be moving to the defensive backfield, seemed too run-oriented in his four starts at quarterback last season and only showed flashes of grasping the passing game.

And McCall, who played quarterback only in his senior year of high school, was recruited as a wide receiver or defensive back by stronger programs a year ago.

The only unexpected news concerned the wide receiver recruits. Kevin Brant and Jafar Williams were the only two of the Terrapins' 22 oral commitments who didn't sign yesterday.

Brant, the son of ABC broadcaster and former Maryland linebacker Tim Brant, shocked the Terrapins, opting to sign with UCLA. Williams hasn't signed with any school, and Vanderlinden still expects him to come to Maryland.

With Brant reneging, the Terps used his scholarship to grab defensive lineman Scott Smith, a Philadelphia first-team All-Public League selection.

Vanderlinden said Maryland "met all its needs" with this recruiting class, emphasizing size and speed.

Of the 12 Maryland-D.C. recruits targeted, the Terrapins landed seven of them, including John Carroll receiver Scooter Monroe, Meade defensive back Andrew Smith and Thomas Johnson linebacker Leroy Ambush.

"I would recruit every one of these players after we're 8-3," Vanderlinden said. "A year ago, I couldn't say that. In three years, this class will prove, regardless how it's ranked, to be a heck of a class. I trust our evaluations."

NOTE: Morgan State lost coach Stump Mitchell to the NFL, but it was expected to pick up at least six players with the beginning of the national signing period.

Three players from Detroit had made oral commitments to the Bears: defensive back Brandon Hooks, offensive lineman Justin Malone and tight end Gregory Peoples.

Morgan State also was expected to pick up a linebacker, Gregory Merchant, from Venice, Calif., and two other offensive linemen, Jason Moore of Pittsburgh and Mark Brown of Petersburg, Va.

Sun staff writer Christian Ewell contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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