DJ Durkin didn’t make secret his strategy for improving the Maryland football program when he stepped to the podium a year ago on National Signing Day.
"I think it's our job to build a program and put a product on the field that guys can be proud of," he said back then. "And all those guys from here will want to come play on the hometown team. That's what's going to get this thing on the map the right way and give us the credit we deserve in this area."
He made in-state recruiting — extended to D.C. and Virginia, of course — the focus of almost every media appearance. He kept at it when preseason media coverage was in full swing this August.
When asked about freshman Antoine Brooks before the season, he gave this answer:
“I think he has the respect of everyone in this area,” Durkin said. “A huge part of bringing in Antoine was that. Antoine is us. He’s from our backyard, and we’re sure going to do right by the kids in our backyard.”
At his press conference Wednesday, Maryland’s coach stayed on message.
“We’ve made no secret about it. That’s our formula. We’re going to take care of our backyard and win here in the DMV, with that being our foundation.”
Maryland immediately got much better at in-state recruiting when Durkin and his staff got here.
To get a full sense of how Maryland was failing to convince in-state recruits to stay at home, look no further than the program’s last full recruiting cycle with Randy Edsall as head coach.
Top Maryland 2015 recruits
|1||Isaiah Prince||OT||4 stars (0.9496)||Ohio STate|
|2||Adam McLean||DT||4 stars (0.9419)||Maryland|
|3||Jalen Christian||ATH||4 stars (0.9149)||South Carolina|
|4||Pat Allen||OT||4 stars (0.9131)||Georgia|
|5||Kamonte Carter||ATH||4 stars (0.9065)||Penn State|
|6||Kai Locksley||ATH||4 stars (0.8907)||Texas|
|7||Lawrence Cager||WR||3 stars (0.8894)||Miami|
|8||E.J. Donahue||OG||3 stars (0.8867)||Maryland|
|9||Juwan Briscoe||CB||3 stars (0.8777)||Georgia|
|10||David Stills||QB||3 stars (0.8711)||West Virginia|
A grand total of two of the state’s top 10 recruits ended up in College Park, and Maryland finished with the No. 49 class in the country. While it’s true the team seemed to start to gain recruiting momentum in the following class — some of which was momentarily squashed when Durkin took over and did not retain offensive coordinator and DMV recruiting savant Mike Locksley — Durkin’s doing a better job recruiting in his first season than Edsall was in his fifth.
The root causes of Maryland’s immediate resurgence are many. Durkin assembled a staff full of coaches known for their recruiting prowess; defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim and wide receivers coach Chris Beatty in particular were the lead recruiters on many of Maryland’s top prospects. Durkin’s high-octane approach was bound to strike more of a chord with recruits than that of his predecessor, but it was more than that.
It was at least somewhat of a conscious decision. Durkin didn’t just try to fill spots when he got to Maryland last December. He took the kids he needed, and created as many open spots as he could.
“This was designed this way,” he said. “Last year we signed a smaller class, and I held on to scholarships so we could do this this year.”
The team was able to sign 28 recruits, giving them a giant shot of depth and talent, partly because they were able to sign seven early enrollees. Top recruits like defensive backs Deon Jones and Markquese Bell enrolled at College Park for the spring semester, giving them a head start at the program and giving the staff the ability to count their scholarships toward last year’s class, keeping this year’s under the Big Ten’s 25-player cap.
All that work built Maryland the No. 18 recruiting class in the country, right behind defending champion Clemson.
This recruiting cycle, Durkin and his staff got a lot of their work done early. Aboard came blue-chip recruits Cam Spence and Kasim Hill, who’d later team up at St. John’s for their senior season.
They’ll help sure up the defensive line and quarterback spots, two areas sorely lacking in production for Maryland recently.
Their in-state pull also helped get them a last-minute heist of four-star DeMatha Catholic running back Anthony McFarland, who seemed a certain Miami commit a week before Signing Day. His proximity to campus allowed the staff to bring him around for lots of unofficial visits, and they eventually wore him down.
“It's not just like he was here for recruiting presentations,” Durkin said. “He's here all the time. That's the great part about it. He knows what he's getting with us and we know what we're getting with him. He got hurt his senior year and is as hungry as can be.”
The verbal commitment and then decommitment of five-star defensive end Joshua Kaindoh feels like a footnote now. He would have been an incredible haul for a team that almost never gets recruits of his stature, but Maryland kept rolling. All eight of the team’s program-record eight blue-chip recruits came from Maryland, D.C. or Virginia.
Top Maryland 2017 recruits
|1||Chase Young||DE||4 stars (0.9953)||Ohio State|
|2||Anthony McFarland||RB||4 stars (0.9518)||Maryland|
|3||Deon Jones||CB||4 stars (0.9245)||Maryland|
|4||Nathan Proctor||LB||4 stars (0.9221)||Virginia Tech|
|5||Marcus Minor||OG||4 stars (0.9106||Maryland|
|6||Joshua Paschal||DE||4 stars (0.9028)||Kentucky|
|7||Jordan McNair||OT||4 stars (0.8979)||Maryland|
|8||Tariq Castro-Fields||CB||4 stars (0.8967)||Penn State|
|9||Tyshon Fogg||LB||4 stars (0.8940)||Rutgers|
|10||Ayinde Eley||LB||3 stars (0.8810)||Maryland|
The team used a simple strategy to grab recruits from southern states.
Maryland signed four wide receivers from Georgia and one from Florida, two areas Durkin made clear try to get the most out of when he took this job.
The directive was clear: find and offer recruits before other Power 5 schools, then get them on campus as soon as possible.
“We were one of the first ones to get on those guys from down south,” Durkin said. “I just think it was a tremendous job by our staff of identifying them early and then just staying consistent, because the rush of offers came after ours.”
Maryland was the first school to offer wide receiver signee Carlos Carriere, and got him up for a visit in April. He committed to the Terps in May.
“There’s something to be said for that," Durkin said. "I think guys are going to take on that approach of they’re not going to forget who was first. If you’re the first Power 5 team to offer them, it resonates.”
This is Maryland’s best class ever. Now comes the fun part.
Next year’s team will be the most talented one Maryland fans have seen in a long time. Just as there were in 2016, there’s probably going to be growing pains. But having multiple freshmen come in and start in 2017 could put some more fans back in the bleachers at Maryland Stadium.
“Thinking it through and looking at it, these guys had a lot of options,” Durkin said. “They had the opportunity to go play a lot of different places across they country. They made the decision to go to Maryland and do something special.”