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How Maryland signed its best recruiting class ever

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A good staff and a good location go a long way.

NCAA Football: Quick Lane Bowl-Boston College vs Maryland Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

When National Signing Day 2017 drew to a close on Wednesday, nobody was a more surprising member of the top-20 classes list than Maryland. That’s because the Terps had only been their once before in the modern history of recruiting rankings, and also because they’ve gone a combined 9-16 the last two seasons. But no matter.

Maryland’s recruiting classes over the years

Class Avg. rating Rank
Class Avg. rating Rank
2017 0.87 18
2016 0.844 42
2015 0.84 49
2014 0.8453 40
2013 0.8351 41
2012 0.8299 38
2011 0.8126 52
2010 0.8425 38
2009 0.8443 29
2008 0.8464 46
2007 0.8184 37
2006 0.8294 27
2005 0.8264 26
2004 0.8269 17
2003 0.8319 26
2002 0.8365 30
247Sports Composite

To wrap his first full year as the program’s head coach, DJ Durkin inked a class that’s slotted 18th nationally on the 247Sports Composite. That’s one spot off 2004’s No. 17 mark, but the Terps have the best average player rating in their history this year. Maryland has never, ever signed a class with this kind of quality and depth.

The lifeblood of Maryland’s recruiting is good geography.

The university is a 20-minute Metro ride from the middle of Washington, D.C. Pound-for-pound, D.C.’s one of the best recruiting areas in the country. In blue-chip recruits per capita, the District leads all 50 states, while Maryland and neighboring Virginia are also in the top 10. That’s a helpful base from which to draw talent.

Durkin is a former protege of both Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. He recruits with a similar tenacity to that of his old bosses, but with a local flare.

“I don't think there's any difference in terms of how you recruit or what you're doing,” Durkin told me last year. “We're probably more regional recruiting, just how we outline things. We have a great area right here in the DMV, so obviously we're going to spend a lot of our time right there.”

Of Maryland’s 28 commits, 17 are from D.C., Maryland, or Virginia. That total includes six of the team’s seven four- and five-star commits.

The DMV isn’t Florida, California, or Texas. But it’s a pretty damned good tri-state area to base a college football team, if you’re able to keep players home. Maryland prioritizes that, much like most teams prioritize local recruiting.

Still, Durkin’s staff has pulled off what other Maryland staffs could not.

For a team that’s spent its recent history being mediocre, Maryland has signed a surprising number of elite recruits. In Randy Edsall’s five doomed seasons before Durkin replaced him, he signed two local five-stars: receiver Stefon Diggs (2012) and offensive tackle Damian Prince (2014).

Seven four- and five-stars in one class is a lot for this program, but it’s not a total stunner. What sets this Maryland class apart is its substantial depth. The Terps signed a buffet of solid three-stars who grade out in the top 50 and top 100 at their positions — the type of player who’s supposed to be a solid contributor, even if he’s not a star.

The Terps have been strategic about it. One of Durkin’s first moves after his hiring in December 2015 was to bring on Alabama personnel staffer Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, a respected former D.C. high school coach, as his defensive backs coach. Abdul-Rahim was key in the recruitment of a bunch of the locals.

Maryland went years without signing a single player from Hyattsville, Md., powerhouse DeMatha Catholic, which happens to be a five-minute drive down Route 1 from Maryland’s campus. Maryland broke that spell in the 2016 class and signed two DeMatha four-stars this year: running back Anthony McFarland and offensive lineman Marcus Minor.

Maryland’s got more work to do, but this is a great start.

I went there. I have watched tons of bad Maryland football. Even this year’s team, which started 4-0 and ostensibly looked better under Durkin, was a lousy 87th in S&P+. The Terps are coming from a dark place, and they’re still not all the way out. It takes a few years to turn over a roster’s talent level and get good.

But Maryland’s well on its way. If Durkin can replicate this class (or something close to it) two more times, Maryland will have one of the better rosters in the Big Ten.

It’ll be hard to ever win an East division that includes Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State. But with every good player Maryland signs, it gets closer to a chance at catching lightning in a bottle.