Maryland first-year football coach DJ Durkin on signing day and what it means for the program. (Baltimore Sun video)
On a December morning exactly two months earlier, DJ Durkin stood at a podium in Gossett Football Team House and energetically laid out his plan for the future of Maryland football. When he returned to the podium on national signing day, his energy and enthusiasm had not waned, even though there were slight bags under his eyes.
That day in December marked the start of the DJ Durkin era in College Park. But Wednesday marked the first time Durkin had been able to make an imprint on the program, to shape its immediate future. And though the Terps coaching staff got a late start in the recruiting cycle, national signing day — which made official commitments that had stood for as long as 18 months and as short as a couple of hours — didn't mark the end. It marked another real beginning for Durkin.
"We view today as the start of something, not the finish. ... It's the start," Durkin said. "It's the start of a long relationship with these guys and their families and them being a part of our program and what we're building here."
Maryland inked 23 recruits to letters of intent, headlined by a quartet of players from local powerhouse DeMatha and seven prospects from Florida. The Terps addressed a number of needs with the signings of two quarterbacks, four offensive linemen, three running backs and six defensive backs.
Four-star offensive lineman Terrance Davis of DeMatha, an Under Armour All-American, is the highest-rated member of the class, which ranked No. 42 nationally and No. 7 in the Big Ten Conference by 247sports.com as of Wednesday evening.
All of the verbal commitments who were expected to sign Wednesday did, and Maryland got a boost when three-star quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome and three-star defensive back Tyrek Tisdale announced their commitments and signed with the Terps.
The lone miss was St. John's defensive end Terrell Hall, who made his announcement in the afternoon in Washington, D.C., and chose national champion Alabama over Maryland, Ole Miss and Florida State.
"Durkin knows what he can do, and they got some guys in this class that although they weren't as touted, it looks like within this group, Maryland's adding speed," 247sports.com director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong said. "They're adding length. They're adding speed and length on defense, and then they've added some playmakers on offense."
Durkin and his staff had only two months to put together the class, which featured a substantial amount of upheaval, especially when local standout quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. and outside linebacker Keandre Jones flipped to Ohio State in January. But in the abbreviated recruiting period, Durkin and his fellow coaches worked their connections in Florida while defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim helped the Terps get the pledge of four-star offensive guard Richard Merritt from Archbishop Carroll in Silver Spring.
Durkin has recognized the importance of recruiting local talent to Maryland. He mentioned it during his introductory press conference in December and on Wednesday reiterated his desire to keep the area's top talent coming to College Park in the years to come.
Maryland did miss on Haskins, Jones, Hall and four-star wide receiver Trevon Diggs, the little brother of former Terps star Stefon Diggs who committed to Alabama, but the DeMatha signees could be the first to contribute to Maryland since Kenneth Tate in 2011.
"It's huge," Durkin said. "That's our No. 1 thing. We're going to build this program around the guys in our own backyard and the DMV. … It's something we talk about every single day in this building."
Durkin was dead set on assembling a class that could address the Terps' needs this season and beyond. While some area schools, such as Virginia, canceled official visits the weekend of Jan. 22-24 because of the blizzard, Maryland went ahead and hosted its prospects. Durkin said the roads between the Gossett Football Team House and the hotel on campus were plowed so they could ferry recruits back and forth.
"A lot of places canceled their visits," Durkin said. "We didn't. We stayed tough. We are a blue-collar program in case anyone was wondering. So we were here."
That weekend, Maryland got commitments from three-star defensive backs Elisha and Elijah Daniels of Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and two-star tight end Noah Barnes of Auburn High School in Alabama. A few days later, three-star cornerback Antwaine Richardson, who Durkin recruited at Michigan, announced he was enrolling early at Maryland.
Since everyone was mostly snowed in at College Park and there was nowhere to go, the coaches were able to spend more time getting to know the recruits than if they were worried about what was next on their itinerary. There was a talent show of sorts, and the Daniels twins sang "My Girl" by The Temptations.
"Looking back, we would do it all again the same way," Durkin said.
Even at the end of a shortened recruiting cycle that was a whirlwind, Durkin was still the same fiery, energetic coach who Maryland introduced in December. He's acutely aware of the challenges that await the Terps on the field, especially in the Big Ten East division. But like Durkin said Wednesday, the Class of 2016 is just the start.
"The guys we brought in are about the right things," Durkin said. "They're about what we're building here. They're definitely going to help us win a lot of games and compete for championships."