In a matter of weeks, Michael Locksley showed why he was hired to rebuild a Maryland football program torn apart by tragedy last summer, not to mention bogged down by decades of mostly mediocre results.
Given what he accomplished since taking the job in early December, while splitting much of his time, energy and effort — physically and emotionally — between Maryland and Alabama, can you imagine what Locksley might do when he concentrates solely on the Terps?
Highlighted by the last-minute signing Wednesday of four-star Louisiana quarterback Lance LeGendre, Locksley’s first recruiting class is even more impressive than most could have imagined when he took over.
And it could get even better Thursday.
Given that there seems to be a strong possibility that DeMatha safety Nick Cross — who, like LeGendre, appeared headed for Florida State — could pick Maryland over Penn State when he announces, it might be one of the best recruiting jobs in the country.
Considering where the Terps were in terms of the their 2019 class back in late November as a 5-7 season came mercifully to an end with a 38-3 drubbing to the No. 15 Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium, this more than rivals what DJ Durkin did in his first full year by bringing in a top 25 class in 2017.
At the time of Locksley’s hiring, Maryland’s 2019 class was rated No. 85 in the country by 247 Sports, with just eight players. Only four of the 65 programs in Power 5 conferences were behind the Terps, and none of them were in the Big Ten. They were ranked one spot ahead of Harvard.
As of Wednesday night, Maryland was ranked No. 59, with Rutgers at 60 (despite signing 21 players, four more than the Terps) and Illinois at 62 (after signing just 13). The addition of Cross, a five-star prospect whose former high school coach, Elijah Brooks, was one of Locksley’s first hires, could give Maryland a pretty nice bump.
It could also be a sign that what started back in 2015 — when Locksley was Maryland’s offensive coordinator and its interim coach after Randy Edsall was fired and Dwayne Haskins Jr. orally committed to the Terps — can take its most significant step with a 2020 class locally that is expected to be among the nation’s best.
“If we keep the gates around the DMV, and we get the top players in this area to buy into staying here at home and building this thing from the ground up together,” Locksley said at his introductory news conference, “there’s nowhere in the country we can’t go compete with the best.”
What might be most impressive about this year’s class is that Locksley, with a skeleton staff for most of the two months since he took over, went outside the area to pluck a few important recruits, with LeGendre at the top of the list. (Wide receiver Isaiah Hazel of Upper Marlboro remains Maryland’s highest-rated prospect.)
Despite some questions about Locksley not convincing two of his fellow Crimson Tide colleagues to join him in College Park — up-and-coming wide receivers coach Josh Gattis, who served as co-offensive coordinator at Alabama last season and went to Michigan, and former Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who remains on Nick Saban’s staff — it doesn’t appear it affected recruiting.
Locksley officially finalized his staff, with the announcement that former Terp Delbert Cowsette will coach the defensive line and UAB assistant Brian Williams will be in charge of the outside linebackers. At least on paper, it doesn’t appear that Locksley’s first staff will be as strong as Durkin’s was, though former Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, Durkin’s choice as defensive coordinator, left abruptly without ever coaching a game.
That’s the biggest unknown in this equation, given Locksley’s own record of 3-31 at New Mexico and Maryland, as well as the fact that his two other former head coaches, offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery and wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, also failed at East Carolina and Kentucky, respectively. For now, Locksley is 2-0 in press conferences in College Park and 1-0 on recruiting classes.
As much as Locksley’s recent past was spent learning from Saban in Tuscaloosa, what seems more relevant to him and long-suffering Maryland fans is that he was part of a staff that built the Terps into a short-lived Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse under Ralph Friedgen in the early 2000s. Friedgen did it with mostly local talent in Shawne Merriman, Vernon Davis, E.J. Henderson and Scott McBrien.
“I'm fortunate that I spent time here at Maryland when we had the football part going really well in the 2001-2002-2003 era, when we kind of got it going,” Locksley said Wednesday.”So I know what it looks like when this place is hitting on all cylinders. And that's the vision I keep in the back of my head as we go out and recruit and build this thing.”
Given how far the Terps have to go even to be competitive in the Big Ten East, it’s certainly not going to be as dramatic a turnaround this time. But given how the last couple of years have gone, especially since Jordan McNair’s death last summer, what happened Wednesday is certainly a good start for Maryland and its new coach.