COLLEGE PARK — Maryland's football team introduced a 17-member recruiting class Wednesday that — while not highly ranked — left the coaches giddy. Their excitement was based largely on the signing day addition of top target Damian Prince and four other players to an offensive line in need of an upgrade as the Terps head to the Big Ten next season.
Offensive line appeared to be Maryland's top position of need, and the Terps managed to bolster it with a player ranked by Rivals.com as the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle recruit. There were joyous shouts, applause and high-fives in a Maryland coaches meeting room as Prince announced his selection on ESPNU on Wednesday morning, a scene captured on a video made available by the university.
"We knew we wanted to address the line situation on both sides of the ball, and we were able to do that with quality people," head coach Randy Edsall said. "Your team is built from the inside out."
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Maryland's class is ranked 54th nationally by Rivals and 43rd by 247Sports.com.
The class contains just one quarterback (Will Ulmer from St. John's College High School in Washington D.C.), one receiver (Juwan Winfree from Englewood, N.J.) and no running backs. Maryland believes it has ample talent at those spots. But the class is stacked with offensive linemen — a position thin enough that the Terps have resorted to starting true freshmen and a walk-on over the past few years.
Starting lineman Mike Madaras, a top recruit two years ago, left the program last season. The contract of offensive line coach Tom Brattan was not renewed after the season, and former LSU assistant Greg Studrawa was hired to replace him.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Prince (Bishop McNamara) did not tell Maryland's coaches his decision in advance of the announcement at his high school.
That left them in a similar position as the team's fans — huddled around a table and gazing at a television, hoping he'd pick the hometown team over Florida and South Carolina.
"A lot of times when those guys go up on stage they call the school before they go up there," Maryland recruiting coordinator John Dunn said. "You got the true reaction because no one had any idea. It was joy, it was elation. It made it fun."
Taking advantage of its proximity, Maryland has long been cultivating a relationship with Prince, seeking to develop trust.
"A guy like Damian, who's been over here since the end of his freshman year, has been here three years and knows everything about us," Dunn said. "In turn, we know a lot more about him."
But lead recruiter Mike Locksley, Maryland's offensive coordinator, did not have contact with the player in the hours leading up to his announcement.
"[We'd] been talking to him the last few days," Edsall said. "Then all of a sudden [Tuesday] night I was putting calls into him, Mike was putting in calls to him. I came in [Wednesday] morning and said, 'Did you talk to him last night?' And [Locksley] said no. I think [Prince] just wanted to have some space."
Maryland will have a sixth-year quarterback next season in C.J. Brown, who missed two years with injuries, and dynamic receivers in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, who both suffered leg fractures in 2013.
Winfree, who is 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds will add depth to the receivers. Like Diggs, he can also return punts and kicks.
"You identify electric playmakers at that position and I think that's what he is," Dunn said. "He's a big kid. I think he can make plays with the ball in his hands."
But mostly the coaches want to make sure Brown — who suffered an array of injuries last season, including a concussion— is adequately protected and that the running game is improved after ranking 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season.
Along with Prince, the other incoming offensive linemen are Larry Mazyck of Washington D.C.; Sean Christie from Medford, N.Y.; Brendan Moore of Austin, Texas; and Derwin Gray from Washington D.C. Gray was recruited last year but attended prep school and is now enrolled at Maryland for the spring semester.
Eight of the Terps' incoming recruits are from Maryland and the Washington D.C., including linebacker Nnamdi Egbuaba (St. Frances) and defensive back Josh Woods (McDonogh). Linebacker Jessie Aniebonam from Good Counsel is the most highly touted defensive recruit, ranked the second-best player in the state by Rivals.
There is one recruit from the Midwest — tight end Andrew Gray from Chardon, Ohio. Maryland is making more of a recruiting push in that region as it transitions to the Big Ten.
Maryland has assigned Studrwa to recruit Cincinnati and Cleveland. Chad Wilt, the newly hired defensive line coach, will recruit in Chicago and Indianapolis.
Those areas had been lightly recruited by Maryland previously.
"Once we start playing out there, the brand will get out there," Dunn said.
"We told them it was going to be a very positive move for us going to the Big Ten," Edsall said.