Prior to Maryland football’s game against Penn State Saturday night, head coach Mike Locksley decided to reach out to freshman wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, eager to ignite a spark.
“Hey, we brought you here to make plays, and what a great day and a great opportunity to do it here today,” he texted the former five-star recruit.
Jarrett did just that and more; he torched the Nittany Lions with 144 yards on five receptions and scored the first two touchdowns of his career to help the Terps take a 35-19 upset victory. To cap things off, he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week Monday in honor of the breakout performance.
“He came through,” Locksley said. “Really made some big time plays for us early on to ignite us on the offensive side of the ball and it was great to see from him.”
The Landover, Maryland, native got off to a hot start, connecting with Taulia Tagovailoa for two touchdowns on each of the first two drives of the game to give the Terps a 14-0 lead.
With the team facing third-and-3 at the 42-yard line, Jarrett quickly outran Penn State cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields on a short cross route inside. He caught the ball and picked the speed up a notch even further, bursting out of the reach of three defenders, as well as another that tried to come over to help, to score the first touchdown of his collegiate career. It was the Terps’ first against Penn State since 2016.
“Our openers are plays that we kind of pick and that we have executed well and that our quarterback likes,” Locksley said.”But also from a game-planning situation, it’s an opportunity for us to get a feel for how they’re going to attack us on defense.”
Penn State chose to go with a man defense, which lit a fire under Maryland’s wide receivers, especially Jarrett. “We took that disrespect,” he tweeted after the game.
On another third-down situation with less than a minute to go in the first quarter, Jarrett ran a similar route up the middle, once again easily beating his man to reel in the pass on the run. He never slowed down as he sped past the first Nittany Lion and left a trail of defenders stumbling to the ground in his wake.
“You better tackle him as soon as he gets the ball, or he’s gonna be gone,” said program alum Pat Ward, who was Jarrett’s offensive coordinator at St. John’s College High School. “They were playing man-to-man, I don’t know how smart that was. ... He made the play when it was thrown his way, so it was pretty impressive all around.”
By the end of the first quarter, Jarrett had cemented himself as the first true freshman with 100 yards and two touchdowns in a game since Stefon Diggs. The NFL star had just one game with more receiving yards in his rookie campaign, when he finished with 152 yards and one touchdown on 11 receptions against Boston College on Oct. 27, 2012.
.@RakimJarrett is the first Terps true freshman to have 100 yards receiving and two TDs in a game since... @stefondiggs.— Maryland Football (@TerpsFootball) November 7, 2020
Here they are together back in the day. DMV ➡️ UMD. #TBIA pic.twitter.com/ilQRxSEPcq
The script couldn’t have been written any better. Of course, Jarrett was the first since Diggs to accomplish the feat; it’s merely another link in the chain of connections binding the pair together.
Jarrett idolized the elder Maryland wide receiver growing up and often attended games in College Park to watch him in live action. Diggs had cemented himself in DMV football folklore with his decision to play for his hometown team, under then-offensive coordinator Locksley, as a five-star recruit back in 2012.
Seven years later, Jarrett was a five-star himself, ranked as the No. 2 wide receiver and No. 20 overall player in the 2020 class. He originally committed to LSU in April, 2019, but began to question if it was the right fit as signing day approached. Unsure of what to do, he turned to Diggs, sending the NFL wide receiver a direct message on Twitter for guidance as he faced the same difficult choice.
“He just told me I got to start surrounding myself with people on the same focus as me,” Jarrett told Testudo Times last December. “And I got to be willing to sacrifice all the outside noise and focus on winning and doing what I have to do to make it to the next level.”
Jarrett decided Maryland was the best place to do so, though he didn’t fully make up his mind until the morning of Early National Signing Day. Locksley and his coaching staff had no idea it was coming.
“What’s a better place to do it than your city.. see y’all in the fall. #Signed,” the Landover, Maryland, native posted on Twitter and Instagram Dec. 18. Diggs had said nearly those exact words during his commitment ceremony.
Ward knew it was the perfect fit for Jarrett as soon as he heard the news. The former All-ACC offensive lineman was quite familiar with Locksley, as he was the Terps’ running backs coach during Ward’s career in College Park from 1993 to 1996.
“[Locks is] a good man and was the right man for the job at the right time. To me, I was just happy that I knew that I could trust Locks to take care of Rak, and that was important,” Ward told Testudo Times. “I think that he’s, you know, Rak’s a special kid. He’s very driven and wants to do well and, you know, he needs that. And I think Locks saw the same thing in him.”
Jarrett’s work ethic has impressed the team from the jump, and it’s solidified him as a key piece of the 2020 Terps shortly into his freshman campaign.
Tagovailoa noted that Jarrett always stays after practice with him and the other receivers to keep improving on different routes, releases and catches, as the group did frequently throughout the offseason. Locksley constantly sees him in the film room or putting in even more work with the quarterbacks.
“He loves to learn and he loves to grow, and that’s one thing that I like about Rakim,” Tagovailoa said. “He’s always open to take information. And for him, he’s never satisfied with anything. He always wants to get better, whether it’s a release or route or catching. So he’s definitely mature.”
Jarrett started the season as a backup to Brian Cobbs on the depth chart, and while he hasn’t officially been listed as the starter yet, only redshirt sophomore Jeshaun Jones has caught more balls than the freshman more through three games. The freshman ranks first on the team in average yards per reception (17.8), and he comes in at second in receiving yards (213) and yards per game (71).
Jarrett only recorded one receiving yard, along with 19 yards on a kick return in his debut as a Terp, a 43-3 loss to Northwestern in which the Maryland offense struggled all-around and couldn’t ever seem to get going. But it’s been a completely different story since — for both the freshman and the team as a whole.
The following week against Minnesota, Jarrett produced 68 yards on six receptions. And though he didn’t score a touchdown or have a flashy game like fellow receivers Jeshaun Jones and Dontay Demus Jr., the freshman’s contributions were crucial to the team’s success. He caught every ball that came his way and connected with Tagovailoa for all three of the Terps’ third down conversions on the night, producing 13.7 yards per reception in those situations.
There was no questioning the wide receiver’s dominance against Penn State, however, as he recorded the third-most receiving yards by a freshman in a single game in school history. The performance was merely a coming out party, a glimpse into what the team believes will be an illustrious career for Jarrett at Maryland.
“That young guy, he’s gonna be special here,” Jeshaun Jones said last month. “I can’t wait to see him, watch him grow.”