UM football expecting recruits of higher class

Full Orange aftereffect not to be felt until '03

College Football

February 05, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

While there won't be a quantum leap, look for a noticeable boost in the quality of Maryland's football recruiting class, to be announced tomorrow.

With the Atlantic Coast Conference championship and subsequent trip to the Orange Bowl in tow, the team's coaching staff has made great headway with high-profile recruits. The group of players actually signing letters of intent with the Terrapins likely will rate in the middle of the pack in the ACC, but it should be the best talent in recent years.

"If we can close with some of the ones we want, it will be an exceptional class," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said last week, "but regardless, it will be a good year."

A group of defensive players - end Randy Earle from Farmingdale, N.Y., and linebackers D'Qwell Jackson of Seminole, Fla., Shawne Merriman of Upper Marlboro and Reggie Holmes of Bowie - highlights the list of probable signees for Maryland, which aimed to replace five linebackers and improve team speed.

The Terps, whose class is rated 29th in Division I-A by Rivals.com, are still reportedly in contention for Tampa, Fla., teammates Oliver Hoyte, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker, and Brian Clark, a 6-3, 185-pound wide receiver, both of whom are deciding between Maryland and North Carolina State.

The key effect of Maryland's dream season is that the coaching staff now competes against brand-name schools longer, getting visits from players who eventually sign elsewhere, but would not have considered the school in previous years.

"Normally, by Week 4 [of the season], if you're not an early hot name, players start telling you you're not in the final whatever," said Mike Locksley, Maryland's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. "The immediate impact is that it's kept us in the dance in the entire recruiting process."

Leon Washington, regarded as the top cornerback prospect in the country, visited the Terps on Jan. 4, the day after they returned to College Park from the Orange Bowl. Maryland was the first school to offer a scholarship to the Jacksonville, Fla., resident, who appreciated what he thought was an honest approach from the team's coaches.

"They were straight up - `We want you here and we need you here,' " said Washington, who eventually crossed the Terps off his list and is choosing between South Carolina and Florida State. "I went to Oklahoma first, and I liked Maryland better than Oklahoma, and then I went to Florida and said that Florida was better than Maryland."

Maryland's experience with players projected to the highest tier, like Washington, is normal for programs that have a breakout season. There's an initial curiosity about the upstart, followed by a reversion to the tried-and-true programs.

One of the reasons, according to Greg Biggins of Student- Sports.com, a Web site that follows recruiting, is the difficulty in trusting a program with only one winning season in the 10 seasons before last year.

Meanwhile, three straight disappointing seasons haven't deterred prospects from flocking to Penn State, which beat out Maryland for a top-10 recruit, linebacker Tamba Hali of Teaneck, N.J., and came to Catonsville to sign running back Chris Wilson.

"I always had a strong respect for Coach Friedgen ever since I met him," said Wilson, who made an official visit Maryland before choosing the Nittany Lions over Stanford. "I knew that Maryland was going places, but I also knew that Penn State had gone places and they had a better track record than the upstarts."

"A lot of schools that recruit against Maryland will say, `They're just a one-year wonder; we've been established.' A lot of players will hear that, and it's in their head," said Biggins. "USC and UCLA are always going to do well, even though they're perennial underachievers. Meanwhile, a school like Oregon that is having a great year is running eighth in the Pac-10."

Wisconsin and Northwestern broke long droughts to make Rose Bowl visits during the mid-1990s. But neither school enjoyed immediate returns on its sudden success because, according to Northwestern recruiting coordinator Jeff Genyk, many recruits have already chosen their top schools before their senior season begins.

Genyk said his school's 1996 Rose Bowl appearance after 27 straight losing seasons made the bigger impressions on that year's high school juniors, and didn't yield benefits until a year later. That group would eventually win a share of the Big Ten title in 2000.

"The impact we're seeing now, because we won also in the 2000 season, is that you have guys who - when they started watching football - Northwestern was good ... even though the parents are still thinking of Northwestern as a losing football program," Genyk said. "Now all of a sudden, if Maryland can get it going, with a young man who is 13 years old, for his whole life Maryland's been good."

The Terps' Locksley echoed those sentiments, saying "it becomes cool to say you're going to Maryland."

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