Terps fill needs with 21 signees

UM lands state's top 2 linebacker prospects

February 07, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland signed 21 football players to letters of intent yesterday, fulfilling most of coach Ralph Friedgen's goals.

"I'm very happy with this class, as we were able to improve our athleticism and speed," said Friedgen, who also was looking to sustain the depth his team had at linebacker during a 2001 season that included a 10-2 record, an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and a trip to the Orange Bowl. "We felt we needed immediate help at linebacker and we addressed those needs."

Aaron Thompson and Marlon Moye-Moore were the only losses among linebackers who had started. But overall, the Terps will enter the 2002 season without half of the 12 linebackers who played for the team in 2001, and the coaching staff recruited the last few months not knowing if All-American E.J. Henderson would return for his senior season.

Accordingly, Maryland brought in the state's two best prospects at the position, 6-foot-1, 234-pound Reggie Holmes from Bowie and 6-3, 218-pound Shawne Merriman from Douglass in Prince George's County. Joining them will be Randy Earle, a 6-3, 229-pound pass rusher from North Massepequa, N.Y., and 6-3, 205-pound William Kershaw from Raeford, N.C.

Henderson and Leon Joe will return as starters, but the expectation, according to Friedgen, is for those new players to contribute in supporting roles at some point this fall.

"I still would like to get more linebackers if I could," said Friedgen, who still has three scholarships left since he gave one to quarterback Scott McBrien, a West Virginia transfer, over the winter break. "We lost six kids. ... Some kids will at least have to backup."

Maryland hopes it improved its team speed by signing receiver Dan Melendez from Lancaster, Pa., as well as two players who can play offense or defense -- Chris Choice from Eleanor Roosevelt High in Prince George's County and Jo Jo Walker from the Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Texas -- and junior college cornerback Reuben Haigler.

Haigler, who is at Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania and will enroll at Maryland this fall, is probably the best equipped to help a secondary that lost safeties Tony Jackson and Randall Jones and cornerback Tony Okanlawon. Marcus Wimbush (Washington Dunbar), who signed with the Terps last year but didn't qualify, is also expected to help in that area.

On offense, Friedgen is hoping that Melendez, Choice and Walker will eventually become the proven deep threats that Maryland hasn't had since Jermaine Lewis in the early 1990s.

"Danny Melendez gives us a receiver who can get up the field," Friedgen said, "but I would like to get another burner."

Choice's teammate, Josh Allen, and Lakeland, Fla., native J.P. Humber were the team's additions at running back. Quarterback was another position that constituted a notable chunk of the incoming class.

Orlando Evans from City College of San Francisco is expected to challenge McBrien, Latrez Harrison and Chris Kelley for the task of replacing outgoing Shaun Hill this fall.

Sam Hollenbach from Sellersville, Pa., and Chatsworth, Ga., native Joel Statham are quarterbacks expected to wait awhile, as is Hagerstown's Domonique Richmond, whose first choice is to play that position, although he is listed as a wide receiver/cornerback.

"I'm high on both of them [Hollenbach and Statham]," Friedgen said, "but at quarterback, if you play him early and he loses confidence, you never get it back."

The Maryland coaching staff was happiest not to lose out on any in-state players of consequence, and to make inroads in areas like Texas and Georgia.

The Terps, however, were unable to make any headway in Northern Virginia, where players like Ahmad Brooks (a top 10 linebacker who eventually signed with Virginia) paid little attention to the Terps. As a matter of fact, Maryland had more success attracting interest from players throughout the rest of the Virginia -- a Virginia Tech stronghold -- even though they struck out in the state regarding signings.

Overall, Friedgen described the previous season as a foundation rather than anything to show major recruits that the program had arrived.

He said that improvements to the Gossett Team House, which incorporates the locker room, weight room, coaches' offices and other team facilities, would help -- "when you're talking to the top guys, your house has to be in order" -- as would a successful follow-up to the 2001 season.

"We have to do something to show that last season wasn't a fluke," he said.

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