Maryland football coach DJ Durkin beamed as he strode to the podium Wednesday to discuss his program’s significant step toward a second straight top-25 recruiting class.
The Terps announced 22 players signed national letters of intent during the NCAA’s early signing period. 247Sports ranks their class No. 18 in the country, as of Wednesday night.
So Durkin’s demeanor was much improved from his frustrated press conference that followed Maryland’s season-ending loss to Penn State on Nov. 25. While he said his high-caliber recruiting class hasn’t diminished the sting of that defeat and the lack of a bowl bid, he outlined reasons for optimism moving forward.
“I can’t wipe the smile off my face,” Durkin said.
Among Maryland’s 22 signings were two 247Sports four-star recruits — defensive tackle Austin Fontaine and offensive tackle Jaelyn Duncan. The Terps also signed junior college transfer Byron Cowart, who was a five-star defensive lineman recruit in the Class of 2015.
While Durkin said a few more signings might come in February — chiefly some help at cornerback— the Class of 2018 is near completion with few scholarships remaining.
Here are three takeaways from the Terps’ early signing day.
Maryland signed 14 players who went to high school in the DMV, continuing a trend set by last year’s top-25 class, which featured 17 local athletes. Fontaine and Duncan are in-state products from DeMatha Catholic High School and St. Frances Academy, respectively.
Durkin touted the talent level in the surrounding area and said landing DMV recruits is the result of nearby players visiting practices to see how the program operates.
“There is a tremendous [advantage] to being centrally located in the DMV,” Durkin said. “When you look at this class, some of these guys have been here around 30 times.”
But Maryland also signed three players from Florida, where Durkin coached with the Gators from 2010 to 2014. Because commits often try to convince future recruits to join the team, Durkin said the success in the region could grow in the future.
“Those are areas I’ve recruited my whole career and my staff recruited, so we have ties down there,” Durkin said. “For us, it’s kind of like a second home. The DMV is our backyard, but we are going to go down there and pick up some players.”
Winning the battle up front
Since Durkin took over in College Park before the 2016 season, he’s preached the importance of improving Maryland’s size at the line of scrimmage to compete in the Big Ten.
Last year, Durkin signed four-star offensive linemen Marcus Minor and Jordan McNair, both of whom were listed at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds upon their arrival in College Park. Minor filled in when starting lineman Damian Prince was injured late in the season.
On Wednesday, Maryland announced the signings of Duncan, a 6-foot-6 four-star prospect, and a trio of three-star offensive line recruits, including guard Evan Gregory from DeMatha.
But perhaps an even bigger boost came on the other side of the ball. After the Terps posted one of the worst pass-rushing seasons in the nation last year with just 16 sacks as a team, they added Fontaine — the country’s 12th-best defensive tackle prospect — and Cowart. Both players could make an immediate impact in College Park.
That could make the Terps’ pass rushing unit dangerous, especially if defensive end and 2016 sack leader Jesse Aniebonam — who missed most of his senior year due to an ankle fracture — is cleared by the NCAA to return for an extra season.
New outside weapons
With All-Big Ten wide receiver DJ Moore departing for the 2018 NFL Draft, Maryland needed to rebuild its nucleus of deep threats.
Signing four three-star wide receivers was a strong step toward that objective.
In addition to commitments from DMV players Brian Cobbs, Dontay Demus and Darryl Jones, Florida native Jeshaun Jones announced Wednesday he would join the program.
“It was big, finishing strong with Jeshaun, so we are certainly thrilled with that,” Durkin said. “But you look, top to bottom … we really helped ourselves in that [receiver] spot. We are trying to improve our size across the board and our speed across the board. We have been able to do that in a lot of spots.”