A year ago, Maryland football coach Mike Locksley was little more than two months on the job when he flipped two four-star prospects, DeMatha safety Nick Cross and New Orleans quarterback Lance LeGendre, on national signing day.
That helped the Terps finish ranked in the mid-40s by most national recruiting sites after hovering much of the 2018 season in the mid-80s. Can Locksley continue his late-cycle magic when the first of two national signing days is held Wednesday?
Despite a disappointing 3-9 season that ended with eight defeats in his team’s last nine games — most by an average of 30 points or more — Locksley’s persuasive style and positive outlook for a program that has endured five straight losing seasons is helping Maryland make strides toward another respectable recruiting finish.
“As I said before, I look at this class as really our first class. Last year was kind of three weeks to sign people, and I felt we did a good job of making up some ground,” Locksley said in a telephone interview late Tuesday afternoon. "With this class, we’ve had a full cycle of being here a year, being able to get to know and evaluate these guys.
“Obviously as I’ve always said in taking this job, we have a tremendous product to sell here. We’ve been very very transparent with the work that needs to be done in creating a strong foundation for our program. It wasn’t a quick fix. This will be a gradual increase where every year our goal is to get better. With this year, we feel we’re getting better with the kids that are in it.”
With the announcement last week that three players from the same Independence (Kansas) junior college team — one of them, Mosiah Nasili-Kite, started his college career at Washington — had signed, the Terps started moving up.
The addition of three-star offensive lineman Khris Love, who flipped from Central Florida on Sunday, and three-star defensive lineman Riyad Wilmot, both of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, moved the Terps up to No. 35 nationally and 11th in the Big Ten, according to the 247 Sports Composite rankings.
The two South Florida players signed after Locksley spent a couple of days driving and flying around the state for visits, and culminated with a lunch at the Hard Rose Hotel near Miami on Tuesday.
Maryland also got a commitment from former four-star safety Osita Smith (Wilde Lake), who originally committed to West Virginia before spending a year of prep school at Milford Academy in New York.
Adam Friedman, the Mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said in a telephone interview last week that the days leading up to the first and most important signing day could go a long way in speeding up — or simply maintaining — the rebuilding process.
“Again, a lot of the teams that are behind them right now are going to be adding commitments — Rutgers, Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin,” Friedman said.
Friedman said that finishing in the top 30 nationally supersedes wherever the Terps finish in the Big Ten in recruiting.
“Selling a top-30 recruiting class in the nation does more than selling a top-10 recruiting class in the Big Ten,” Friedman said.
Friedman said that progress has been made.
Under the formula used by Rivals, which ranks teams based on the average value of a school’s top 20 prospects, Maryland could find its way into the high or even mid-20s if Locksley keeps signing high three-star prospects, such as Love, or even a four-star prospect.
Maryland is also in the running for, though not the favorite to land, two other South Florida prospects: four-star quarterback Jeff Sims and four-star wide receiver Marcus Fleming, who reportedly plan to be a package deal. While Georgia Tech remains the front-runner for both, Locksley has reportedly offered Fleming’s brother, an unrated safety, a spot as a walk-on.
Fadil Diggs, a four-star prospect from Washington who previously committed to Texas A&M, is also reportedly considering a flip to the hometown Terps.
“A lot of what has bumped them up lately has been the commitments mostly of junior college prospects,” Friedman said Friday. “There’s a couple of two-star prospects in this class, and let’s say if they get another high three-star or four-star prospect commits to Maryland, the value of the two-star prospect will be replaced by the three- or four-star.”
Friedman is not surprised that Locksley has been successful at flipping prospects for the Terps since he has done it before. When Locksley came to work for Edsall, he convinced five-star receiver Stefon Diggs to leave Ohio State for Maryland. Three years later, quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. and linebacker Keandre Jones, both four-star prospects, committed to Maryland but switched to the Buckeyes when DJ Durkin replaced Edsall. Jones finished his career in College Park after Locksley was hired.
It wouldn’t be a shock to see Locksley flip a couple of three- and four-star prospects come Wednesday, Friedman said.
“Mike has always done a really good job closing on recruits even if they’re committed to another school,” Friedman said. “It has a lot to do with the relationships he has with the families and the players. It kind of gets a little skittish as we get close to them signing that binding agreement on national signing day. Mike has a voice that can inspire and calm and clear the picture for a lot of these players.”
Said Locksley: “I don’t know if there’s an art to [flipping] as much as it is just being really diligent in your messaging in terms of what it is your program has to offer. As we learn in the recruiting process, when you’re able to say things to people and then when they get on campus and when they have opportunities to meet our best advocates for our program — our current players — and they do such a tremendous job of giving third-party validation to the recruits and their parents that what we say, we do.”