Mike Locksley had his moment of pep rally spirit on Thursday, entering Cole Field House as the marching band played the fight song for his introductory press conference as Maryland football’s head coach.
Now, the pomp and circumstance is done. The honeymoon stage will likely continue on, conceivably well past the Terps’ season opener against Howard on Aug. 31, but Locksley has his work cut out for him before even reaching that point.
Maryland’s new coach inherits a 2019 recruiting class composed of eight three-star prospects. That puts the Terps at No. 87 in the country, per 247Sports — 61st among 65 Power Five schools, one spot ahead of Harvard.
And with the early signing period for football opening Dec. 19, Locksley’s time to make an impression on recruits is winding down.
But a coach whose portfolio is stuffed with local blue-chippers — 14 of the 21 four- and five-star signings Locksley has secured in his career have come from D.C., Maryland or Virginia — may be just the guy to handle a challenge like this.
Maryland certainly has faith in the 48-year-old Alabama offensive coordinator, and so do some high school coaches in the area.
“If you had anybody else, this class would be lost,” said Andy Stefanelli, the coach at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School. “He gives them certainly the best chance to still have a good class here with the 2019s.”
After firing Randy Edsall in October 2015, the Terps lost a few recruits, including current Ohio State star Dwayne Haskins. Still, the team’s 2016 freshman class ranked No. 41 in the country. It rose to No. 18 in 2017 — DJ Durkin’s first true class as coach — and dipped to No. 28 this year.
But several months of off-field turbulence — beginning with the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair in June and seemingly ending with Durkin’s firing in October — caused Maryland’s 2019 recruiting class to suffer.
As Durkin remained on administrative leave for much of the prime recruiting season, commitments were scarce. When three-star wide receiver Dino Tomlin chose the Terps in November, he became their first commitment in two months.
Many boosters and high school coaches believed Durkin’s departure would set the program back several years. In just the two weeks following his firing, three players decommitted from the class of 2019.
With his institutional knowledge of the recruiting landscape in and around Maryland, Locksley could mitigate some of the potential offseason disaster, even as questions are raised regarding his 3-31 lifetime head coaching record.
“We all talk about Mike as this great recruiter, and he’s known to be one of the best in the country,” athletic director Damon Evans said. “But let’s not forget, he is just as talented as a coach.”
DaLawn Parrish, the football coach at Wise High School, is interested to see how many local assistant coaches Locksley can secure for his staff. Locksley said Thursday he’ll take his time choosing assistants, and said one of the key characteristics he looks for in his staffers is an ability to recruit.
Parrish pointed to Greg Schiano, who led a momentary turnaround of Rutgers prior to its move to the Big Ten. Schiano filled his staff with New Jersey natives, and they convinced top players — such as Mohamed Sanu, Kenny Britt and Jeremy Zuttah — to stay at their state school.
In Locksley’s earlier stints with Maryland, he had a knack for securing local talent. Randy Starks, Shawne Merriman, Vernon Davis, Stefon Diggs and Yannick Ngakoue all committed to the Terps while Locksley was here, and he hopes to repeat that success as coach.
“If we keep the gates around the DMV, and we get the top players in this area to buy into staying here at home and building this thing from the ground up together,” Locksley said, “there’s nowhere in the country we can’t go compete with the best.”
When Locksley would visit Wise, he wouldn’t offer false optimism. If he didn’t think a player would fit at the Division I level, he would let Parrish know and offer advice to improve the player’s skill set and on where to look. The honesty was refreshing in a recruiting landscape often filled with lofty promises.
“Finally, we have a DMV guy right here,” Parrish said. “We’ve all known for a long time this is where coach Locksley wanted to be. Right here, coming back home.”
Locksley went 1-5 in his six-game stint as Maryland’s interim head coach in 2015 following Edsall’s firing. But after Edsall’s stringent coaching style, Locksley’s takeover lightened the mood, said Stefanelli, whose son, Andrew, played on the team.
Early in Locksley’s opening statement Thursday, he thanked Martin McNair — a friend of his from their children’s time together at McDonogh School — for being there at his introduction. When Locksley’s son, Meiko, was shot and killed in 2017, the McNairs were there to support him. Locksley did the same for them following Jordan McNair’s death in June.
That provides Locksley a unique perspective on all that’s happened in College Park since May 29.
“He understands what it means to lose a child,” said Dameon Powell, the Charles H. Flowers High School football coach. “He’ll make sure he’s looking after each and every one of his guys like [they’re] his own.”
After his homecoming welcome Thursday, Locksley has a long way to go as he balances his new Maryland job with calling the plays for Alabama through the College Football Playoff.
But if there’s anyone who knows the area and could limit the program’s setback, it’s Locksley.
“You talk about recruiting, you talk about Maryland, you’re talking about Mike Locksley,” Powell said. “He’s not going to stop until the last second, man. I guarantee he’s going to have a couple go his way. That’s how he operates; that’s how well people know him in this area.”