The early national signing period for college football enables coaching staffs to solidify star-studded classes early and cut down on chaos in February. Of ESPN’s top-300 players, 241 had signed with their respective schools by Wednesday afternoon.
Maryland didn’t rake in the early signings, though, after a tumultuous season beginning with offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death in June and continuing with coach DJ Durkin’s firing Oct. 31. When Mike Locksley was hired Dec. 4, the Terps had one of the smallest and lowest-rated recruiting classes in FBS, and they signed just six players during Wednesday’s early signing day.
But Locksley, still performing his duties as Alabama offensive coordinator while trying to piece together a recruiting class, isn’t worried about Maryland’s six-player class since there’s another two months to scout and convince players to join his rebuild in College Park.
“Obviously, we have a lot more work to fill out and develop the rest of this class between now and the next signing day period,” Locksley said in a conference call. “But I am thrilled with the student-athletes we added today.”
Five of the six players hail from the DMV, where Locksley’s recruiting prowess is strongest. The class is highlighted by four-star wide receiver Isaiah Hazel, who flipped from West Virginia shortly after Locksley was hired. The Upper Marlboro native attends Dr. Henry Wise High School and is rated the No. 4 player in the state by 247Sports.
Locksley said he spoke with Hazel and his family for two hours on an unofficial visit after being hired, and that he believed the relationship he built with Hazel while recruiting him at Alabama aided in the switch.
“A player of Isaiah’s caliber … I was fortunate we were able to get him signed,” Locksley said.
Maryland offered three-star offensive tackle Mason Lunsford on Dec. 11, and he verbally pledged to the Terps three days later. On Wednesday, the 2018 first-team All-Met and WCAC selection officially signed. Lunsford, the No. 24 prospect in Maryland according to 247Sports, remains the lone 2019 offensive lineman committed or signed to Maryland.
Locksley made additions to his receiving corps, signing tight end Malik Jackson and wide receiver Dino Tomlin. Jackson, a three-star recruit and the top-rated tight end in the state, per 247Sports, previously verbally committed to coach Randy Edsall at UConn before flipping to Maryland on Wednesday.
Tomlin, the only signing from outside the DMV, attends Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, where he averaged 35 yards per reception and tallied 18 touchdowns during his senior campaign. Tomlin is the son of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and his uncle, Ed Tomlin, played for the Terps in the late-80s.
“Being a coach’s kid who grew up in the game, I think you get the work ethic it takes, the skill level it takes,” Locksley said. “He’s also the student council president so he’s a kid that I think is one of those well-rounded type of student-athletes that you want in your program.”
Deonte Banks and Lavonte Gater rounded out Maryland’s day. Both recruits pledged before Locksley arrived in College Park and remained on board throughout the disastrous months that followed. Banks is ranked the No. 43 corner in the country and No. 9 player in the state while Gater is rated the No. 134 athlete and No. 12 player in Maryland, according to 247Sports.
Locksley said he has contacted most of Maryland’s verbal commits, but that he wants to slow down the process for the recruits and the program. Although filling positions of need is a priority for his program, Locksley doesn’t want to rush the recruiting process going into his first year.
“We do want to make sure that both parties have the opportunity to get to know each other,” Locksley said, “and make sure it’s a fit.”
Locksley anticipates utilizing all scholarships available to sign a full class, which he said would be approximately 25 recruits. Considering he only has six signees and five verbal commits, he said he would be looking at the junior college and transfer markets to fill the class before the signing period reopens in February.
While Locksley is preparing for the College Football Playoff with the Crimson Tide, John Papuchis and Cory Robinson have handled most of the in-person visits so far. Papuchis and Robinson joined Locksley’s staff as special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach, respectively.
Locksley’s involvement in Tuscaloosa adds one more complication to a year full of uncertainty for Maryland. But the Terps have until April 1 to finalize a 2019 class with the aim of stabilizing a program in flux.