In DJ Durkin’s first full year as Maryland’s head football coach, he brought in the highest rated recruiting class since rankings were created in the early 2000s.
By all accounts, Maryland’s recruiting class of 2017 was a top 20 class in the nation. It is unanimously ranked fourth or better in the Big Ten by the four major recruiting services, 247Sports, Rivals, Scout Recruiting and ESPN.
The Terps signed eight four-star players, which is as many blue-chip players as they had signed in the previous three classes combined, according to 247Sports.
While much of the class had been solidified for some time, there were several moving parts in the days leading up to National Signing Day.
Friday, Jan. 27
The Friday before signing day may be remembered as one of the most important days in DJ Durkin’s tenure as Maryland’s head coach. Three days after getting top remaining target Anthony McFarland to delay his decision date, the dynamic all-purpose back chose Maryland over Miami. Had he decided on Jan. 25, as planned, it would have been the other way around
“I was supposed to commit [to Miami] Wednesday, but then I went out with Coach Durkin and the coaches Tuesday,” McFarland said on a CSN Facebook Live broadcast on National Signing Day. “We just talked.”
Whatever the coaches said, it worked. McFarland is one of the most dynamic players in the class. That said, his decision goes beyond whatever he will accomplish on the field in a Terps uniform. Being the elite player he is, McFarland is a role model for a lot of the younger talent in the Washington area. His commitment will likely make it easier for DJ Durkin and his staff to recruit other elite local talent in the future.
Saturday, Jan. 28
Then-Virginia Tech commit Tahj Capehart took a last minute official visit to Maryland.
Maryland’s staff, for the most part, did an exceptional job converting verbal commitments into National Letters of Intent. There were a couple guys that did get away, however. Joshua Kaindoh, Dazz Newsome, Jonathan Doerer and Kofi Wardlow were once committed to the Terps, but ended up signing elsewhere.
On a couple of occasions, though, Maryland ended up on the winning side of recruits flipping their commitments.
Brandon and Breyon Gaddy, Capehart’s high school teammates, decommitted from Tennessee at the end of November. They committed to Maryland twelve days later while on an official visit.
Bryce Brand was previously committed to Arizona before flipping to Maryland on Dec. 16. His brother Ryan, a former three-star quarterback, is joining the team as a preferred walk-on.
Durkin and his staff worked some more of that magic late in the cycle, getting Capehart to visit campus on the final weekend before his commitment to Virginia Tech would become official.
Sunday, Jan. 29
Two-star kicker Jonathan Doerer flipped to Notre Dame. Doerer was originally offered a scholarship to kick at Maryland. He committed in July. But as scholarship numbers began to get tight later in the class, Maryland proposed that Doerer blue-shirt; he’d play a year as a preferred walk-on and be awarded a scholarship next year when one became available.
Notre Dame had a better offer. Following an official visit on the last weekend before signing day, the Fighting Irish offered Doerer a full scholarship. Sunday night, he announced that he’d be attending Notre Dame.
All decommitments sting, but Maryland has two kickers on the roster and seems to be in good position to land a kicker in next year’s class when they’ll need one for sure.
Monday, Jan. 30
The Gaddy twins announced that they’d be choosing between Maryland and Florida.
It was nerve wracking for Terps fans at the time, as Maryland’s defensive line was below average last year and losing two players who can contribute fairly soon would have been a big blow.
A few dominoes fell Maryland’s way in this decision, as two other defensive tackles committed to Florida, leaving the Gators without room to accept the twins’ commitment, even if they wanted in.
Tuesday, Jan. 31
The day after announcing they’d pick between Maryland and Florida, the Gaddy twins elected to stick with the Terps. Again, there were other factors that may have influenced their decision, but how they ended up in College Park is far less important than the fact that they did.
Maryland found themselves in the final two for Culpepper, who at one point looked College Park-bound. The Terps’ coaching staff cooled on him late in the cycle as other needs became more important. Culpepper chose USF.
With less than 24 hours before recruits could sign their NLIs, rumours about another potential flip in Maryland’s favor began to swirl. After McFarland’s commitment four days earlier, rumours that his high school teammate, five-star defensive end Chase Young, may be having second thoughts about signing with Ohio State. McFarland had said, on the Inside MD Sports podcast on Monday night, that Young was 50/50 between sticking with Ohio State and flipping to Maryland.
Those rumours were put to bed when Young tweeted Tuesday night that he’d be signing with Ohio State the following day at DeMatha’s signing ceremony.
Wednesday, Feb. 1
The craziness of National Signing Day unfolded — in a big way.
Recruits could start sending in their NLIs as early as 7 a.m.. The morning was off to a good start as Maryland went 3-for-3 in the first hour, receiving NLIs from Johnny Jordan, Kasim Hill and Andrew Park.
Then the big one came.
Capehart announced his flip and signed with Maryland at 8:01 a.m.. The Terps were staring a “boom” situation right in the face, avoiding the dreaded signing day bust.
Just as McFarland’s commitment busts open a pipeline at DeMatha and other local schools, so too does Capehart’s commitment for the Virginia Beach area.
Capehart’s commitment gifted Maryland its third recruit of the class from Virginia powerhouse Bishop Sullivan. If Maryland is ever going to make the #DMVtoUMD movement last more than one class, it’s going to need in-roads in Virginia — something the Terps have struggled with for years. Signing three of the best players from one of the best high schools in the state is an incredible start for Durkin.
The next two hours were business as usual, until another surprise came.
The No. 8 running back in the nation, four-star Cordarrian Richardson committed to the Terps from outer space in a Bleacher Report video. That boom scenario was turning into a sonic boom scenario.
With only one target yet to decide, Maryland looked in good shape to have one of the most successful signing days of any team in the nation. Four-star cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields was set to announce at 2 p.m. between Penn State and Maryland, who had reportedly been gaining ground in his recruitment as signing day approached.
While most Maryland fans were focused on monitoring the Castro-Fields situation, Wardlow signed with Notre Dame at 2:06 p.m., ruining the Terps’ perfect day. Even if he hadn’t Castro-Fields would have.
At 2:30 p.m., Castro-Fields chose Penn State delivering a right hook to that potential sonic boom scenario.
— The Left Bench (@TheLeftBench) February 1, 2017
By happy hour, the Terps had received NLIs from every commit except Richardson. Even without his, the Maryland had signed its highest-rated class since recruiting services came into existence.
Thursday, Feb. 2
Richardson signed with the University of Central Florida, not Maryland. It isn’t really clear what happened in the 24 hours between his verbal commitment to the Terps and his signing with UCF. Whatever happened, it will certainly make for an interesting storyline should he be on the field when UCF travels to College Park on Sept. 23.
Maryland has already extended over 100 scholarship offers for the class of 2018. If this next class follows a similar timeline to the class of 2017, the Terps should have their first commit by the end of March. If it doesn’t, it will likely be worth the wait.
There is a lot of elite, local defensive line talent in the class of ‘18— Maryland needs to land some of these guys.
While next year’s class will have to be smaller due to scholarship limits, it’s not unreasonable to think that another top 25 class is possible. The overall rating of next year’s class could very well beat this year’s record and boost the class’ ranking on quality instead of quantity.
However it breaks down, it is undeniable that DJ Durkin is delivering on his promise to recruit better and build a monster of a team based on local talent.