COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Perhaps D.J. Durkin saved his biggest win of the year at Maryland for National Signing Day.
His Terrapins were 6-7 and went to the Quick Lane Bowl this past fall, but behind the scenes, Durkin and his staff had something much bigger brewing – the top recruiting class in Maryland history.
The huge 28-player haul ranked ninth in the country according to SCOUT, and ESPN had the Terps rated 20th. Either way, it looks a lot like Durkin & Co., have a lot more weapons to compete in the Big Ten’s unforgiving East Division. Eleven signees, another all-time high at Maryland, were rated four-star prospects.
“The quality of this class, absolutely, we expect to recruit at this level every year and continue to get better and better,” said Durkin. “There’s not a reason not to. We’re going to attack and be aggressive with it. We’re in the middle of one of the most fertile grounds in the country and we have a product that is second to none.”
But the Terrapins dropped six of seven conference games over one stretch in 2016, and were outscored 149-13 over a three-game span by Big Ten bullies Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska. Durkin wasn’t operating with a full cupboard and graduation hit his receiving corps, secondary and defensive line particularly hard.
Now Maryland is bringing in a class that only Michigan and Ohio State consistently out-rated Wednesday. Durkin held back scholarships last year, setting the stage for a dramatic day that should have all Terrapin fans rejoicing.
Start with local product Anthony McFarland (DeMatha, Hyattsville, Md.), who came down to Alabama, Miami, Penn State, Georgia and Maryland. A brilliant combination of speed and power, he will push for playing time immediately even with Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison back.
“He’s electric, dynamic with the ball in his hands,” said Durkin. “He is a difference-maker. Ant is great because he already feels like family. He’s around it all the time. He knows me and my staff, and we know him. He has been here for recruiting presentations. He is coming off an injury his senior year and he’s hungry. You put the ball in his hands and he has the potential every time he has it to go the distance.”
Durkin also landed a local quarterback that should compete for a job this summer. Early commit Kasim Hill (St. John’s College, Washington, D.C.) threw for 1,431 yards and 16 touchdowns, and rushed for 885 yards and 10 scores after transferring from Baltimore’s Gilman to St. John’s.
“He’s a tremendous talent, he can make all the throws, he can beat you running the ball,” said Durkin. “He’s (6-2, 230), he’s a freak of nature, but that doesn’t scratch the surface. What makes him difference is his leadership. He was a huge part of putting this class together because he has that leadership quality. I talked to him earlier today and told him it doesn’t stop now. He is viewed as a leader by his peers. How soon he plays, I don’t know, but he’ll compete. Whenever he’s ready, I know for sure he has a bright future and will be a household name for all Terp fans.”
Those two are part of the 11 four-star signees, but also part of another key demographic – 17 players from the region who stayed home to come to Maryland. “We made no secret about it,” Durkin said. “We’re going to take care of our backyard. We’re going to win here in the DMV and build with that being our foundation.”
Other local four-stars included defensive tackle Cam Spence (St. John’s College, Washington, D.C.); OG Marcus Minor (DeMatha, Hyattsville); OT Jordan McNair (McDonough, Owings Mills, Md.); CB Deon Jones (Potomac, Oxon Hill, Md.), and LB Ayinde Eley (Good Counsel, Olney, Md.).
Jones and another four-star defensive back, Markquese Bell (Bridgeton High, Bridgeton, N.J.) are part of another key incoming demographic – seven recruits who are already on campus. Jones and Bell will have every opportunity to step into jobs in a secondary that was often a primary concern last year.
Defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim calls Jones “an extremely skilled, technically sound corner,” and Durkin said the 6-2, 194-pound Bell walks into a room and “looks like an NFL safety.”
Others already enrolled and in winter workouts are 6-2, 230-pound linebacker Nick Underwood (Riverside City Community College, Lake Oswego, Ore.), who originally enrolled at Air Force; CB Alex Woods (Lackawanna Community College, Durham, N.C.); 6-7, 280-pound OT Tyran Hunt (Southampton High, Courtland, Va.); 6-1, 235-pound Buck end Bryce Brand (Clayton Valley Charter, Concord, Calif.) and CB Fofie Bazzie (Quince Orchard, Gaithersburg, Md.).
“That’s a huge benefit,” said Durkin of early enrollees. “If a guy and his family want to do it, we help because it’s a tremendous benefit to them, as well as our team, but it’s not something we push. They’re all doing winter workouts right now, enrolled in 15 hours of classes. They’ll be in 15 practices. When summertime comes and the rest of the freshmen come in, they’re almost in a class of their own. They’re not freshmen, they’re above that.”
Durkin sees an upgrade coming in the secondary with the influx of new talent. “At corner and safety we’ve got guys with length, we’ve got guys that can run and change direction and go cover. What we want to do defensively is get up in guys’ faces, press and play man-to-man and play aggressive. That’s what we do and we’ve got a lot of the right guys to help us do that.”
Kenny Bennett (Academy at Palumbo, Philadelphia, Pa.), a three-star corner, joins Bell, Jones, Woods and Bazzie in the five-man DB haul.
The Terrapins, who lost Teldrick Morgan, Levern Jacobs, DeAndre Lane and Malcolm Culmer to graduation, loaded up with six wide receivers, including late addition, four-star Tahj Capehart (Bishop Sullivan Catholic, Virginia Beach, Va.) who signed Wednesday morning, after early verbally committing to Virginia Tech.
Maryland wide receivers coach Chris Beatty called Capehart “fast and explosive with really soft hands and quick feet. He has home run potential.”
The 5-10, 170-pound Capehart will join 6-1, 180-pound Jalen Browder (East Paulding, Dallas, Ga.); 6-4, 170-pound Carlos Carriere (Alpharetta High, Alpharetta, Ga.), 6-2, 202-pound Jayden Comma (Roswell High, Roswell, Ga.); 6-0, 180-pound M.J. Jarrell (Timber Creek, Orlando, Fla.), and 6-0, 178-pound Sean Nelson (Langston Hughes High, Fairburn, Ga.). Nelson is a four-star who “tracks the deep ball very well. The others all three-stars.
Reloading up front was another key in this class. On offense, along with the 6-5, 330-pound McNair, the 6-4 296-pound Minor and Hunt, Maryland also got promising Johnny Jordan (Gonzaga High, Leesburg, Va.), a 6-1, 301-pound, three-star center.
Defensively, the 6-3, 311-pound Spence is a stud. “Cam is the heart of this class and a beast on the field,” said defensive coordinator Andy Buh. “He will be an every down interior lineman that adds explosive pass rush ability as well as size.”
Buck end Brand is a three-star rated addition, and considered a playmaker. Along with four-star, 6-4, 315-pound Breyon Gaddy, the Terps also get 6-4, 320-pound brother Brandon, also out of Bishop Sullivan in Virginia Beach.
DL B’Ahmad Miller (St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, Newark, Del.) is a 6-3, 262-pound force in the interior. Fellow two-star prospect Lawtez Rogers (Eleanor Roosevelt, Greenbelt, Md.) is 6-4, 256, also plays in the middle, and Durkin said he has a bright future.
Andrew Park (Lake Braddock, Fairfax Station, Va.) is a 6-4, 234-pound tight end who earned three-stars, and running backs Tayon Fleet-Davis (Potomac, Oxon Hill, Md.) and Javon Leake (Page, Greensboro, N.C.) round out Durkin’s second class.
The 5-10, 210-pound Fleet-Davis had 30 career scores and averaged over six yards a carry in his career. The 6-0, 208-pound Leake was rated the No. 1 back in North Carolina and had offers from Louisville, South Carolina, UNC, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.
“It’s a big class in number, as well as in quality,” said Durkin. “All the positions on offense and defense are represented in this class, and it’s about an even split. Any position we start going through the names and how strongly we feel about those guys as students, as athletes, as people of character.”
Durkin also talked about the public perception of this class. “You don’t get ranked that high, that doesn’t happen with guys that are limited in their options. The most important thing from my standpoint looking at it, there are a bunch of guys that had the opportunity to go play at a lot of different places in the country, the big names in college football, and they made a decision to come here to the University of Maryland and be part of something special we’re building. That’s the most exciting thing to me.”