Maryland football has had plenty of historical success in the backfield with talents such as Da’Rel Scott, Lance Ball and the great LaMont Jordan, and the Terrapins have reaped the benefits of a very deep backfield over the last few seasons.
Getting to this point without a stream of highly-rated recruits took a lot of scouting and development. Here is how the Terrapins generated a backfield boom in the last handful of cycles and what the future of the position holds.
2015: Scouting pays off
For all of Randy Edsall’s shortcomings, his final recruiting class brought in a staple of the future with three-star Maryland native Ty Johnson accepting an offer to come to College Park. Johnson was scouted during a summer camp in June 2014, where he earned this offer, and became the Terps’ lone running back signee of the 2015 class.
Johnson played a very reserved role in his freshman season, as senior Brandon Ross rushed for 958 yards and junior Wes Brown handled backup duties, but his home-run prowess was on display early.
2016: Building depth
After the departure of Edsall, DJ Durkin had to fight to retain those who’d been recruited by then interim head coach Mike Locksley, and did quite well. The Terrapins brought in a quadruplet of three-star recruits in Lorenzo Harrison III, Jake Funk, Laderrien Wilson and Tyrek Tisdale. The latter two never touched the field for Maryland, but Harrison and Funk were welcomed additions.
With Brown not really playing an active role in his senior season, 2016 resulted in a coming-out party for Johnson, who recorded 1,004 yards on the ground and seven total touchdowns. Harrison was also able to burst on the scene as a true freshman with 633 rushing yards and five scores.
2017: Stacking talent
Little did anyone know, but 2017 would be the birth of a new era in College Park for running backs. Durkin locked up three-star recruits Javon Leake and Tayon Fleet-Davis in summer 2016, then shocked many with the signing of four-star DeMatha standout Anthony McFarland, who was ranked as the No. 2 prospect in Maryland and the No. 3 all-purpose back in the class.
After a bowl appearance in 2016, the Terrapin offense suffered setbacks in 2017, but the backfield sang a rather similar tune. Johnson finished with 875 yards and five touchdowns, Harrison added another 622 yards with four touchdowns and Funk played a short-yardage role, tallying 145 yards and four scores.
2018: Overwhelming numbers
There were no recruits signed at the running back position in 2018 as everyone returned from the previous season, and McFarland was in the fold after a redshirt campaign. With offensive coordinator Walt Bell leaving, it opened the door for Matt Canada to come in and install a run-heavy offense that allowed the position to shine. The Terrapins often played with two or more running backs on the field, with jet sweeps and other misdirection plays creating more chances than in previous offenses.
McFarland took the lead in his first season of playing time, racking up 1,034 yards while Johnson struggled injuries in his senior season but was able to add 506 yards. Fleet-Davis and Leake also combined for 640 yards and 12 touchdowns, which opened up the field by keeping defenses on their heels.
2019: Still enjoying the present
Due to the fallout with Durkin in 2018 and a late hire, Locksley was unable to secure a running back commitment for the Class of 2019 (three-star prospects Jordan Houston and Treshaun Ward had been committed under the old staff).
He still has plenty of talent to work with, though, as McFarland, Leake and Fleet-Davis showed brilliance last season, plus Funk and Harrison will return from injury to fill out the running back room. But McFarland will be eligible to enter the NFL Draft after his redshirt sophomore season in 2019.
2020: Back on board
For the Class of 2020, Locksley has already received pledges from three-star running backs Peny Boone and Ebony Jackson (Boone was a composite four-star when he pledged, and both could ultimately reach four-star status). This replenishing of depth is quite needed after two classes of no signees.
The 2020 season will feature Funk and Harrison as redshirt seniors, as well as Fleet-Davis and Leake in their senior seasons. McFarland, if he’s still at Maryland, will be a redshirt junior. If there’s a departure from this group, Boone and Jackson have the talent to quickly enter the mix.
2021: Starting over
Locksley will likely have Jackson and Boone redshirt in 2020 due to the depth already in the running back room, making them prime contributors with four years to play starting in 2021. This backfield could theoretically also feature Fleet-Davis, Leake and/or McFarland as redshirt seniors, but those futures are uncertain.
The Class of 2021 is not notably strong at running back in the DMV area, so Locksley and his staff will have to make inroads outside of the local area to stock up on more depth behind Boone and Jackson.
As seen in Maryland’s recent seasons, depth at the running back position can change the complexion of an offense. Having a plethora of options to run multiple-back sets or just rotate fresh bodies in and out will keep defenses on their heels and open up the passing game. Combine a deep running back room with a good signal caller at quarterback and an offense will be truly hard to stop.