Maryland football turned heads when it brought in the nation’s No. 18 recruiting class in 2017. The Terps had finished 6-7 the year prior, but added eight blue-chip prospects as part of a class that made up nearly a third of the scholarship roster last season.
After losing two quarterbacks to torn ACLs in the first nine quarters of the season, Maryland limped to a 4-8 record. Teams that limp to 4-8 records usually struggle to keep incoming recruiting classes together. For Maryland to do that with another top-20 class would by conventional wisdom seem nearly impossible.
That’s exactly what happened.
The Terps officially signed 22 players on Wednesday. The class, currently ranked 19th in the country, isn’t complete—two verbal commits remain unsigned, and it’s reasonable to expect a wild card between now and the traditional signing period—but the group even in its current form is an impressive continuation of Maryland’s recruiting surge under DJ Durkin.
“Creating depth is how you build your program. We made a point of doing this the right way all along,” Durkin said at a press conference Wednesday. “We’ve been recruiting at the high school level for the most part. We’ll take one or two junior college players in a class. But we are going to build it with guys who are going to be here and sustain the competition. This goes a long way to doing that.”
While the arbitrary cutoffs that dictate prospect star ratings suggest that this class isn’t as strong as the last, the average 247Sports Composite rating of the committed members of this class (.8689) narrowly edges out that of last year’s group (.8686). Signing a strong class takes years of work, and for 21 players to send in letters of intent by 8:30 a.m. on the first possible day is a reflection of how fervently they’ve bought in.
“These guys never wavered one bit. It says something about them as people and the trust and faith they have in the direction of this program,” Durkin said. These guys all had options to go a lot of different places and they all stayed, and that tells you a lot about the Terps we are bringing in.”
The entire class comes from the east coast. The majority hails from the DMV, with remaining pieces coming from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Florida. When Durkin arrived in College Park, he assembled a staff of ace recruiters with connections to all of these areas. Each of those coaches played a part in the assembly of this class.
Of course, Maryland’s new crop of additions doesn’t just include high school prospects. Offensive tackle T.J. Bradley and defensive end Byron Cowart are junior college transfers, while linebacker Tre Watson, who announced his plans to join the Terps on Friday, is a grad transfer from Illinois. Maryland will enter 2018 with a blend of veterans and talented underclassmen at virtually every position.
The early signing period, approved this summer, unquestionably benefitted Maryland. The Terps have so much of their 2018 haul locked down that they can ramp up their 2019 intensity before this cycle concludes. Durkin used the three weeks between Maryland’s last game and the end of the contact period to visit nearly every one of his recruits. It’s unclear whether Wednesday would have gone differently had the Terps been preparing for a bowl game; Durkin is adamant that missing the postseason didn’t do his team any favors. What we do know is that Maryland’s recruiting efforts more than overcame a poor season on the field.
That obviously won’t continue to be the case if the Terps keep going 4-8. Building a program is a multi-year process; injuries and a brutal schedule hid much of Maryland’s progress from visibility in 2017. But one losing season isn’t enough to slow Durkin’s relentless optimism of this program’s potential.
The last question at Wednesday’s press conference was about Durkin’s main selling point when talking to recruits. Off he went.
DJ Durkin explains his pitch to recruits pic.twitter.com/mbReY4slt7— Luke Jackson (@luke_jackson10) December 20, 2017
It’s a memorable monologue. And if Maryland starts winning, it’ll be that much more irresistible.