COLLEGE PARK - They filled holes in the secondary and added much-needed depth on the offensive and defensive lines.
But in describing his 2004 recruiting class yesterday, Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen settled on a common trait among the 23 players who signed letters of intent, acknowledging acceptance of scholarship offers from the Terrapins.
"I kept writing, 'great size, great athlete, great speed, can play a lot of positions,' " said Friedgen at yesterday's national signing day news conference. "It dawned on me then that we have a lot of really big, fast athletes in this class. Without a doubt, it's the strongest class we've had since I've been here."
Recruiting analysts have agreed. Maryland's class, which includes 11 players who were named SuperPrep All-Americans, is almost unanimously ranked by analysts as one of the top 20 in the country.
Louisiana-based Max Emfinger, who has been in the recruiting business for 33 years, said it's the top class Maryland has ever had.
Six recruits were ranked as four-star recruits - the second highest possible ranking - by Rivals.com, and 10 were given three-star status.
Mike Farrell of Rivals.com said the addition of Eleanor Roosevelt defensive end Derrick Harvey and DeMatha wide receiver Derrick McPhearson, who both considered Maryland before opting for Florida, would have gotten Maryland's class close to top 10 recognition.
Friedgen, who gave a lot of credit to recruiting coordinator James Franklin, was happy for what the Terps did get. For many of their recruits, the Terps went head-to-head with schools like Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Florida and Penn State.
"We have raised the stakes to who we are competing against," said Friedgen, who said the increased TV and media visibility that the Terps will get from the expanded Atlantic Coast Conference will help recruiting.
"When you've had 31 wins in three years ... there are not a lot of teams that are doing better than that. I think we are getting the opportunity to recruit a very, very high-quality athlete and student."
The Terps did particularly well locally. Ten of the Terps recruits are from Maryland, two are from Virginia, and one is from Washington.
"Every year, there is going to be one or two that you probably lose in the state, but on the same hand, we probably gained in some areas where we generally haven't been able to get kids," said Franklin.
Franklin was referring to South Carolina, where Maryland went in and grabbed defensive end Mack Frost (6 feet 5, 260 pounds), who was also considering Auburn, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia.
He was also speaking of Connecticut, where the Terps landed two of the top players in the state in defensive tackle Jack Griffin (6-6, 270) and safety J.J. Justice (6-1, 218).
The Terps also pulled a coup in landing quarterback Jordan Steffy, who will likely get the opportunity to compete for the starting job as a freshman.
Steffy (6-1, 210), out of Conestoga Valley High School in Leola, Pa., was recruited by Penn State, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Michigan State. He will compete with sophomores Joel Statham, Sam Hollenbach and second-year freshman Ryan Mitch to replace two-year starter Scott McBrien.
"They're not going to be that far ahead of Steffy, but we'll see what happens," said Friedgen. "[Steffy] has been very well coached in high school. I'm hoping that translates into him being very competitive early."
NOTES: Signees Chris Varner, Richard Taylor, Dennis Marsh and Eric Lenz have already enrolled at Maryland and will practice with the Terps in the spring. ... The Terps have one remaining scholarship, but Franklin said Maryland's class is "done for now," though he didn't rule out a transfer or late recruit. Dan Gronkowski (6-6, 250), a quarterback/tight end out of Buffalo, N.Y., is a considered a grayshirt - a high school player who delays his enrollment while waiting for a scholarship to open.
To read SunSpot.net's Q&A; session with Maryland football recruiting coordinator James Franklin, log on to www.sunspot.net/sports.