Like much of the rest of the country, Mike Locksley didn’t know Rakim Jarrett would make his college decision on early signing day. The Maryland football coach thought the five-star wide receiver from St. John’s College High School was waiting until February, as Jarrett had previously tweeted.
But then Jarrett took to Twitter again Wednesday morning, announcing he was “Staying at the crib with it” and joining the Terps despite committing to LSU in April.
“We’re like, what is this?” Locksley said.
Jarrett’s unexpected signing boosted Maryland’s 2020 recruiting class in more ways than rankings. When Locksley stepped behind the lectern Wednesday to discuss the players signed to his program, he noted how this was a national recruiting class. Locksley said that was a testament to Maryland’s brand, an allure that can convince players from states such as Florida, Texas and Michigan to leave home.
At his introductory press conference last year, however, Locksley said his goal was to “keep the gates around the DMV,” locking in local talent and building his program up from within. Locksley made it clear that was still a primary focus, even with an influx of out-of-area players making up most of the recruiting class. So while Jarrett’s signing was a major success in that department, there’s still work to be done.
“If we can get to where we can control the DMV, we probably don’t have to go out as far,” Locksley said. “But we’re a national brand, and if these local guys don’t think our program’s good enough, we’ll go find them somewhere else.”
Jarrett’s addition pushed the Terps’ recruiting class to No. 27 in the country and No. 6 in the Big Ten, per 247Sports. He’s the first five-star to join since Damian Prince in 2014. He’s the best recruit since wide receiver Stefon Diggs opted to stay local, committing from Good Counsel. And he’s just the fourth local prospect to sign a National Letter of Intent with Maryland so far in the 2020 recruiting cycle.
Locksley and his staff have secured seven players from Florida — including four-star linebacker Ruben Hyppolite. There’s two more each from New Jersey and Texas, and a sprinkling of players from elsewhere in the country.
But of the top-20 recruits in the state — Jarrett counts as a D.C. recruit — only one is committed to Maryland: three-star wideout Corey Dyches, the No. 20 prospect. Four others on that list are going to Michigan, and three players are signed with Penn State. Other powerhouses, such as Alabama, Clemson and LSU, came in to secure recruits, too.
“I’m hoping, again, that they understand that they can come to Maryland and earn a strong degree and have opportunities to go on to play at the next level,” Locksley said. “We’ve had a ton of players that have done it. I’m hoping that we can continue to take some ownership here in the DMV and get some of these top players to believe in the vision that we’ve set.”
Jarrett’s entire recruitment process was “unique,” Locksley said, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary for the 6-foot, 208-pound receiver. As an eighth-grader, he could’ve chosen to attend some of the best football prep schools in the area. Instead, he picked St. John’s before the school was as dominant as it is now.
To Locksley, that showed self-belief and leadership, two attributes he believes fit in well with the culture he wants to build in College Park. That decision showed Locksley that Jarrett doesn’t shy away from a challenge — he’s joining a program fresh off a 3-9 campaign.
“He’s not a follower by any means,” Locksley said. “You win with guys like him.”
It might be some time before more local players of Jarrett’s caliber make a similar decision. But Locksley said he targeted the 2021 recruiting class as the pivotal group when he was hired. That class would have two years with Locksley as head coach, two years of further stability for a program that’s had a shaky history of late.
Since 2015, the Terps have had three full-time head coaches. With each change, there are shifts in recruiting philosophies and playbooks.
“Those relationships are the things that get you the players more than wins and losses,” Locksley said. “Now, obviously, wins help. But the relationship is the big piece.”
Jarrett hasn’t stepped on the field at Maryland Stadium for a college game yet, but there’s a natural comparison to Diggs, a five-star prospect in his own right who proved playing for the Terps could lead to NFL stardom. Locksley said Jarrett grew up “watching and rooting for Stefon Diggs.”
Now, he’ll have a chance to follow in Diggs’ footsteps. And, as Locksley hopes, securing a local blue-chip recruit could serve as an eye-opener to other prospects, turning Maryland into a legit destination rather than just the school down the road.
“If a guy like Rakim Jarrett thinks Maryland is good enough to help him develop on and off the field,” Locksley said, “the challenge is for other guys to believe the same.”