The Maryland Terrapins football program heard good news on Wednesday evening when Flowers defensive tackle Tommy Akingbesote committed to head coach Mike Locksley's team.
Akingbesote is Maryland's 15th commitment for the 2021 class. The defensive lineman chose the Terps over Virginia Tech, among multiple other offers.
For Locksley, the defensive lineman's non-binding verbal committment is the latest example of the momentum he has built with the 2021 recruiting class. More impressive, that momentum has started at one key position.
Akingbesote is the fifth defensive lineman to commit to the Terps, joining a pair of Quince Orchard high school defensive linemen, Demeioun Robinson, an end, and Marcus Bradley, a tackle, and St. John's defensive tackle Taizse Johnson.
All three of those players are composite four-star recruits, according to the website 247sports.com. St. Frances' ZionAngelo Shockey is a three-star defensive end who has also committed to Maryland.
With the addition of Akingbesote, the five highest-rated recruits committed to the Terrapins for now all play on the defensive line.
But besides their position, these five recruits have something else in common: They're high-profile prospects from the DMV area and have chosen to stay home to play for Maryland rather than commit to an out-of-state powerhouse. That has not been the norm in College Park in recent recruiting cycles.
When Locksley was an assistant for the Terps from 1997 to 2002 and then again from 2012 to 2015, he played a major role in the team's recruiting process. During that time, Locksley helped convince some of the area's best players -- Stefon Diggs, Yannick Ngakoue, Damian Prince, Jesse Aniebonam -- to stay home and play for Maryland.
Then-head coach Randy Edsall was fired in the middle of the 2015 season and Locksley was named the team's interim head coach. But Locksley wasn't retained following the 2015 season. Maryland's in-state recruiting began to suffer.
Two weeks before National Signing Day in 2016, four-star prospects Dwayne Haskins Jr. and Keandre Jones flipped from the Terps to Ohio State. Redskins rookie Chase Young, a five-star recruit from DeMatha and the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, who went to high school less than three miles from College Park, committed to the Buckeyes, too.
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Yes, then-coach D.J. Durkin put together a top-20 recruiting class in 2017 led by local four-star recruits like DeMatha running back Anthony McFarland and St. John's quarterback Kasim Hill. But the death of their fellow four-star recruit Jordan McNair, an offensive lineman from Bishop McNamara who passed away after collapsing during an offseason workout, led to Durkin's firing later that year.
The 2018 class -- Durkin's last -- was ranked 28th overall, but even then five-star Eyabi Anoma from St. Frances chose Alabama over Maryland. Locksley had little chance to rebuild relationships with area players and coaches when he arrived from Alabama after helping the Crimson Tide win a national title in 2018 and reach the final again in 2019. He was able to flip five-star St. John's wide receiver Rakim Jarrett from LSU to Maryland, bringing in the program's highest-rated recruit since Prince in 2014.
But Locksley has long said recruiting is a two-year game -- if not longer. Jarrett was a true shocker but an outlier for the 2020 class. It's been the 2021 recruiting class where Locksley has been able to truly make his mark. The Terps currently have the 11th ranked recruiting class in the country, according to 247 Sports, which is a major jump from their 31st ranking a year ago.
While Locksley has made major strides keeping local players at home, there's still more work to be done.
The top two recruits from the state of Maryland, Dont'e Thornton and Landon Tengwall, do not appear to be heading to College Park. Tengwall has committed to Penn State, while Thornton is predicted to either land at Oregon or join Tengwall in Happy Valley, per 247Sports. But Robinson and Bradley are both in the top 10 in Maryland and the Terps are faring well in D.C., too, landing three of the District's top seven prospects.
However, quarterback Caleb Williams, D.C.'s top-rated prospect and the No. 1 QB in the entire 2021 class, remains uncommitted. While Maryland is in the Gonzaga passer's final three, Oklahoma appears to be the frontrunner, according to 247Sports.
When Locksley took over in December of 2018, he knew it would take a few years to turn around the program. The 2020 season is expected to once again be difficult for the Terrapins, who have the toughest schedule in the country, according to ESPN's FPI ranking.
But if the 2021 recruiting class is any indication about the future, Locksley is starting to keep the DMV's best players at home. If the Terps can establish a winning culture with this group of players and stay competitive in the brutal Big 10 East, future top DMV recruits will have no reason to leave home.
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