COLLEGE PARK, Md. – If there was a lesson to be learned from the first year as a Big Ten member it was quite simply that it’s what’s up front that counts.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall and his staff reinforced that notion and shored up interior positions in announcing the 2015 football recruiting class that included five offensive linemen and three d-line prospects Feb. 4.
“The thing that we wanted to do, we accomplished,” said Edsall before a press contingent in Gossett Team House. “We wanted to continue to build our team from the inside out. Having been able to land the quality and the number of offensive linemen we were able to land really enhances what we want to do, where we want to go in the Big Ten, and what we have to compete against.”
The biggest help, literally, should come from four-star guard Quarvez Boulware (6-2, 280) of Washington D.C.’s Friendship Collegiate, and four-star tackle EJ Donahue (6-5, 300) from Linganore High and Moravia, Md. Along with two more four-stars, defensive tackle Adam McLean (6-3, 280) of Quince Orchard High in Gaithersburg, and receiver D.J. Moore (5-10, 185) out of Imhotep Charter in Philadelphia, Pa., they headline the 2015 grab bag of 18 recruits.
It’s a group ranked 43rd nationally this afternoon, getting a late boost from Boulware, and was slotted seventh in the 14-team Big Ten.
Boulware, Donahue and McLean were part of a strong 9-player showing in “The DMV,” and continued a strong connection with powerhouse Friendship Collegiate, and reestablished one with Linganore. The Terps were solid in-state, too, with eight players from Maryland/D.C., and Edsall was particularly proud of a westward reach.
“We identified young men from the western part of the state and up in Frederick County, and were able to land them, which is something that hasn’t been done here in a while,” he said. “EJ Donahue, (OL) Will McLain, (RB) Ty Johnson and (QB) Gage Shaffer, just right across the border (in West Virginia) are four outstanding young men from that area.”
But it’s the linemen, particularly Boulware and Donahue, that figure to make or break the success of this class. They both have the credentials, Boulware a consensus national Top 20 guard, was tabbed the third best local linemen by several services.
Donahue was first team all-state at Linganore and rated the second best lineman in the state by Scout. An honor student, he also competed in lacrosse and wrestling, speaking to some versatility.
Maryland recruiting coordinator John Dunn talked about the Terrapins’ philosophy in recruiting and developing linemen, and they like versatility. “The philosophy of linemen is that the best five are going to play. It depends more on where our need is early on instead of just plugging a guy in at ‘X’ position. We see in training camp where he’s going to play.”
Defensive lineman McLean is another guy who could be a force early. In fact, he’s already having an impact. McLean, who originally committed to Penn State, has been very vocal about his change of heart to his home state school, and he was first team All-Met, consensus all-state for two years and an Under Armour All-American.
“When he had his (knee) injury, he really had some time to think long and hard about things,” said Edsall. “I had an opportunity to go in and sit down with his parents and family was important to him. He wanted to have his family see him play. When you get a guy as charismatic and a leader like he is, it really helps you with other people you’re recruiting.”
Those characteristics were a bonus but not confined to McLean. He is one of 17 among the 18 signees who was a high school team captain, another crowing point for Edsall. “You’re always, in this day and age, looking for young men with leadership capabilities,” he said.
Moore caught 35 passes for 1,012 yards and 16 touchdowns last fall as a team captain at Imhotep Charter. Scout tabbed him the best receiver in the state of Pennsylvania and he was all-state and named to The Big 33 Game.
“I’ve seen a lot of receivers in my time, and I don’t want to put any pressure on the kid but when he came here for camp,” began Edsall, “but watching him run routes and watching him catch the ball, (he) was very, very impressive.”
The other offensive linemen signing on are all Scout three-star prospects – guards Will McClain (6-5, 290) of Middletown, Ellis McKennie (6-3, 305) of McSherrytown, Pa., but who played locally at McDonogh School), and center Mason Zimmerman (6-5, 285) of Anthony Wayne High School in Whitehouse, Ohio.
McClain helped lead Middletown to three consecutive state titles, and was ranked the fourth best lineman in the state. McKennie was selected the second best guard in Maryland by Scout, named to The Big 33 squad and was a fixture on the McDonogh honor roll. He won a leadership award and also competed in track.
“Ellis McKennie is a guy that just won the MIAA shot put,” exulted Edsall. “He’s got some explosion. These guys we got, they’ve got some width to them. They’ve got some thickness. They love the weight room. Two, three years, it’s going to make a big difference in what we can do.”
Zimmerman was second team all-state in Ohio, played in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, and is one example of Maryland’s new Big Ten reach.
“A lot of recruiting is relationships and trust,” said Dunn. “As we get out there in these different states, we’re laying the foundation and it’s a start. We’ll build on that but our footprint hasn’t changed.”
The Terrapins don’t care where the prospects come from if they can fill needs, and the landscape could be changing a bit with a possible December early signing day on the NCAA desk for approval. Next year is also looking like a banner year in local recruiting, too, though the line is an issue that had to be addressed ASAP.
“Offensive line is a position that you have to develop,” explained Edsall. “Most of the young men aren’t going to come in ready-made. But when they have the athleticism, they have the intelligence, they have the width, the girth, the toughness that you want, you really get excited about it.”
On the other side of the ball after McLean, Fort Washington product Keiron Howard (6-4, 280) highlights the defensive front. Howard was a four-year letterman at Potomac High School, earned All-Met second team honors after 7.5 sacks and an interception last year. He played in the 2014 Offense-Defense All-American game and has been tabbed for numerous other all-star appearances.
He caught Maryland coaches’ attention at their summer camp and they’ve been impressed with his physical and personal development. “This (line) group is athletic and (Keiron) is a basketball player, as well as a defensive linemen,” added Edsall. “You can just see his length. He has started to grow and get a little taller. The thing with him is he is going to get a lot better. When you have kids that play multiple sports, the thing I have found is that they haven’t tapped out their potential. A guy like Keiron has tremendous upside. He’s a worker.”
The other d-line sign is Oseh Saine (6-4, 270) from Worcester (Mass.) Academy. The versatile Saine prepped a year after earning all-state honors at Lincoln (R.I.) High School. A two-star prospect, he can play end or linebacker.
Losing three starters at linebacker, the Terps also loaded up here with three-star selections Gus Little (6-3, 225) of Fredericksburg, Va., Mbi Tanyi (6-2, 260) of Houston, Tex., and Brett Zanotto (6-0, 210) from Murrysville, Pa. Little is a two-time team captain, and was Scout’s second best inside linebacker prospect in Virginia. He had 133 tackles, five sacks and a fumble recovery last fall in earning conference defensive player of the year honors.
Tanyi was District 23-5A first team and team MVP at George Bush High School. He could project at defensive end, too, but Maryland is listing him at linebacker. Zanotto is undersized but racked up a ton of honors at Franklin Regional High School, including ll-state, all-county and all-district on offense and defense. Scout tabbed the undersized go-getter as the second best inside linebacker in Pennsylvania.
The Terps added just one defensive back but he could be a diamond. Darnell Savage, Jr. (5-11, 160) was all-state at Caravel Academy in Newark, Del., He flew under the radar a bit, despite 1,298 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last season. A consensus three-star, one service had him the second best prospect in Delaware.
“He’s a corner, very skilled, very fast,” said Dunn. “Great ball skills. He’s very impressive.”
Isaiah Davis (6-1, 210) from Temple Hills is a two-star linebacker prospect but had some of those things showing up on his resume’ that Maryland coaches love – team captain, multiple sports, all-state. He was All-IAC the last two years at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School, and is the younger brother of standout safety Sean Davis.
The Davis duo will be one of three brother tandems next year, joining Brandon and Jarrett Ross, and Levern and Tavion Jacobs.
Edsall took one quarterback but one who seemed to have some familiar characteristics to him. Gage Shaffer (6-7, 205) from Frankfort High in Short Gap, W.Va., first made an impression at Maryland camp in June. “He’s a young man who is a big, tall, athletic guy,” said Edsall. “I had a guy (at Connecticut) that was very similar to him, Dan Orlovsky, maybe an inch or two smaller, who has played now 10 years in the NFL.”
Edsall liked Shaffer’s arm, his competitiveness and his toughness. Dunn said coaches all loved what Shaffer brings “upstairs” or in the mental part of the game. He will have a chance to develop behind Caleb Rowe, Perry Hills and Shane Cockerille.
Edsall called Ty Johnson (5-10, 173) “the best running back in Maryland,” and Scout agreed. Johnson had 4,851 all-purposed yards, 65 touchdowns and 17 interceptions at Fort Hill High School in Cumberland. He led Fort Hill to a 37-3 record the last three seasons, and back-to-back state championships the last two years. He was Scout three-star, all-state and selected to The Big 33 Game, but will be looking up at a Terrapin running back depth chart that includes returning Brandon Ross, Wes Brown and Albert Reid.
Joining Moore at wide receiver, Jahvris Davenport (5-10, 185) is a three-star prospect out of Tampa, where he caught 24 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns last year for Robinson High School despite missing several games. He was an All-Western Conference selection.
Rounding out the class is much-needed punter Nicholas Rubinowicz (6-3, 210) from Wellington, Fla. Rubinowicz averaged 44.3 yards per punt as a senior at American Heritage School. An honor student, he was first team all-state, and also has a strong leg for kickoffs.
“We got our needs,” said Edsall. “There were some positions we really weren’t looking to go after but the two most critical positions that we had were the o-line and the D-line.”
Edsall even called those needs along the line “critical.”
And despite Maryland’s success in the inaugural Big Ten season, numbers back him up. The 7-6 Terrapins were just 12th in the smash-mouth conference running the ball, getting 121.8 yards per game. The line also yielded 37 sacks, another figure that ranked 12th. Maryland’s time of possession was last at 26 minutes, 26 seconds per game, and that’s an area they made need to improve to help a rebuilding defense.
Among the recruits that got away, though, Maryland lost out on the final day in landing Eleanor Roosevelt tackle Isaiah Prince, who opted for Ohio State. “You’re never going to get everybody you want,” said Edsall who diffused the issue quickly in the press conference. “You don’t worry about the guys you don’t get. You worry about the guys you do get.”
He loved that 17 captains stat, and was pleased with this group’s potential.
“I think this is a very good (recruiting class) based on what our needs are, where we’re at, the conference that we’re playing in,” he said. “The quality of the linemen that are in this group…because you win it up front. The skill kids are great but there are more of those than there are of linemen. Linemen are hard to get.”
Terps Shore Up the Line in ’15 Class
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