The Maryland football program failed to land what would have been the jewel of its recruiting class yesterday when defensive end Derrick Harvey, from Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt, announced he will sign with Florida.
But even without Harvey, who is ranked as one of the top 10 recruits in the country, the Terps' group of incoming freshmen is considered Maryland's highest-rated recruiting class ever by some analysts.
Maryland will announce its 2004 football signees today, which is national signing day.
Most recruiting services like Rivals, Prepstars and the Insiders have Maryland ranked just outside the top 10, though ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Lemming doesn't have Maryland in his top 20.
"From top to bottom, it's a terrific class," said Mike Farrell, an analyst from Rivals.com, which ranks Maryland's class as 15th. "They don't have the five-star headliner like last year [Wesley Jefferson] ... but they met their needs."
Max Emfinger, a Louisiana-based recruiting analyst, ranked Maryland's class as 20th in the country. "It's a pretty outstanding class, probably the best class that they've ever had," said Emfinger, who rated six Terps recruits as "fives," the highest rating a player can get.
Before Harvey announced his decision, Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said he was pleased with the class and sees it as another step forward.
"I still think we are [one or two classes away]," Friedgen said. "Last year was a very good class, and this class is potentially better than that one. I think if we can land a good one after this, we'll be off and running."
Harvey, who has been playing organized football for just two years, announced his intentions at a news conference at ESPN Zone in Washington and before a national television audience on ESPNews.
Maryland, Ohio State and Tennessee were finalists for Harvey, 6 feet 5 and 235 pounds, who had 35 sacks this past season.
"I felt the most comfortable down [at Florida]," said Harvey, who has been compared to former Gator and current Tennessee Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse. "The coaches took me in like I was their own son."
The Terps were also in the running for DeMatha wide receiver/defensive back Derrick McPhearson, but it is believed he is leaning toward Virginia Tech or Florida.
One of Maryland's top recruits is Pennsylvania quarterback Jordan Steffy, who committed to the Terps in December. Steffy, a 6-2, 210-pound mobile passer from Conestoga Valley High, was recruited heavily by Michigan State, Penn State, Virginia Tech and Clemson, but the Terps ultimately won out, plucking a top recruit out of the Nittany Lions' back yard.
Privately, people within the program say Steffy will get a shot to compete for Maryland's starting job in August.
Two-year starter Scott McBrien graduated, leaving the competition wide-open among Steffy, sophomore Joel Statham and freshman Ryan Mitch. As a senior, Steffy completed 63 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,826 yards and 18 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He also rushed for 523 yards and 11 scores.
Friedgen said repeatedly this year that his top priority in recruiting was going to be filling out the offensive and defensive lines to avoid the emergency shuffling Maryland has had to do the past two seasons.
Among the standout linemen Maryland has oral commitments from are two of Harvey's teammates at Roosevelt, George "Trey" Covington and Jared Gaither; Carlos Feliciano of Elizabeth, N.J.; Jamie Thomas of Harrisburg, Pa; and Scott Burley of Woodlawn High.
"I think we've finally gotten some depth on the offensive and defensive lines," Friedgen said.
Maryland, which lost three starters in its secondary to graduation, also got commitments from two of the best defensive backs in the Northeast: Kent Hicks (6-2, 190) of Culpepper County High in Virginia, and J.J. Justice (6-2, 215) of Norwich Free Academy in Connecticut.
The Terps also did well recruiting the metro area. Along with nabbing Burley, Maryland got oral commitments from Old Mill defensive back Kevin Barnes, Woodlawn tight end/defensive end Jason Goode, Aberdeen quarterback/linebacker Erin Henderson, Wilde Lake defensive end Dane Randolph and former Mount St. Joseph running back Keon Lattimore, who committed to the Terps last year, but didn't qualify academically.
Defensive back Christian Varner (5-11, 170) graduated from Randallstown in January and will participate in the Terps' spring practices.
NOTE: Friedgen will be on ESPN today at 4:15 to talk about Maryland's recruiting class, and will be on Comcast SportsNet at 6 p.m. to discuss it in further detail.