Mike Locksley Reviews 2023 Class, Remaining Needs, Position Changes

Maryland head coach Mike Locksley reeled in his highlight pledge of signing day when four-star edge rusher Neeo Avery flipped from Ole Miss to Maryland, giving the staff another strong presence in the pass rush. Maryland isn’t done during the early signing period and after announcing his 24-man recruiting class, he cautioned there’s still work left to do.

“I know for some people they think it’s over, but we are still actively recruiting through the second signing period,” said head coach Mike Locksley when talking about the work that is left to be done for this class. “But when you sign a class this big and talented there’s a lot of people that deserve to be thanked.”

Following news of Avery’s flip to Maryland, Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin appeared to take a shot at the Terps after retweeting a ‘bowl eligible’ picture from a tweet running backs coach Elijah Brooks sent back in October. Meanwhile, South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer took a direct shot at the Terps for the second consecutive signing day citing fan attendance. For Locksley, he’s focused on himself.

“It gets really crazy and wacky the last 48 hours and. I know there [are] some schools out there that think there’s some conspiracy theories of what goes on, but I can tell you it’s a lot of phone calls, a lot of hard work, a lot of direct messaging, a lot of sending information,” Locksley responded.

Pass rush was one of two priority needs for Maryland this cycle as Avery joins four-star Rico Walker and Dylan Gooden this cycle. “This year the two major areas for us was addressing the pass rush as well as our wide receiver position,” Locksley added. “When you look at the pass rush with the ability to sign three four-star star guys that have the ability to get after the quarterback really helps us meet the needs that we were trying to get accomplished this cycle.” Another edge rusher that the Terps signed is DJ Samuels. Samuels holds the all-time sack record at his high school, Bergen Catholic. That record was previously held by for Houston Texan Brian Cushing.

After losing three players to the 2023 NFL Draft, Maryland signed five receivers on Wednesday led in athlete Braeden Wisloski and wide receivers Zeke Avit, Sean Williams, Ryan Manning, and Josh Richards make up a heavy wide receiver class for the Terps this cycle. “At the receiver position, losing the talent and depth that we had with the guys that are leaving our program was really important to bring in the right kind of guys to fill those voids and we felt like we hit the mark on both those necessary needs.”

One good sign is Maryland will welcome one-third of its class on campus early with Dillan Fontus, Ryan Manning, Tayvon Nelson, DJ Samuels, Dylan Wade, Rico Walker and Braeden Wisloski arriving in January. In fact, Manning will be able to practice with the team ahead of next week’s bowl game to give him additional reps. “That’s always a plus because when you lose players like we have either through the transfer portal or through their declaration to get ready for their professional aspirations, it is always good to get some new bodies in here. We have a number of our high school freshmen that are early enrollees that will be partaking in some of the pre-bowl game practices that will help us prepare for a great opportunity against NC State.” 

While Maryland filled its one spot at running back in Brother Rice (MI) three-star Nolan Ray and filled out the secondary after Tamarcus Cooley became the final signee today, the Terps will look to replenish talent along the offensive line with portal options still floating. “We are actively working it and feel really strongly that we will get that need addressed here as we continue to move forward.” So far of the 2023 recruiting class, the Terps have signed Tamarus Walker and Deandre Duffus who are both projected to be interior offensive linemen. Offensive tackle remains a focus, whether it be through the high school or transfer portal ranks.

While Braeden Wisloski was announced as a running back where he’ll play a bit in the backfield as well as the slot, four-star Rico Walker’s long-term outlook sits on the defensive side of the ball but Locksley envisions a change. During his recruitment process, Walker had a desire to stick on the offensive side of the ball whereas his family saw the NFL potential on defense, but after watching both CJ Dippre and Weston Wolff depart, Locksley has other plans. “I think we are going to start him on the tight end side,” Locksley said of the North Carolina four-star. “Anybody knows me knows though if he can add value as a pass rusher, I am never opposed to playing guys both ways. But right now the goal is to bring him in as a tight end.”

A question that comes up every year on signing day is why Coach Locks loves recruiting the DMV so much and why it is so important to recruit this area. “It is kind of personal for me. I grew up here, played at Ballou High School and really felt growing up that the University of Maryland never really came in to recruit our school,” said Coach Locks when talking about his ties to the area. “What I had found once I got into coaching, I made a commitment that wherever I am, I am going to recruit this DMV area, this DC Metro area, specifically because I knew that there are some players there that are really talented players and I think it is starting to show when you look across the country and see four or five teams ranked in the national high school top 25.”

As far as plans to play his latest infusion of talent or redshirt them, Locksley’s answer reflected the modern era of college football. “For us, I am bringing them all in to play them now. I am going to redshirt them for the portal? No. Now you guys understand why I play a lot of players. Because they don’t get better on the bench, they are never happy when they are on the bench, and so if they are good enough to help us in some capacity, we are going to try and find and create roles.”

While Maryland announced a bevy of high school signees, the Terps have still been active in the portal to fill immediate holes along the roster. Maryland has picked up commitments from cornerback Ja’Quan Sheppard (Cincinnati), wide receiver Tyrese Chambers (FIU) and safety Avantae Williams (Miami). But Locksley reiterated his program’s foundation will be through the high school ranks. “I’m not one of those guys that is going to hop in the portal for 50% of my class. We are going to really build this thing with the high school football players. Football players who will use the transfer portal and junior college to fill a necessary needs where we need immediate help with immediate experience and I think that is the only way to keep a consistent culture in your locker room. That is just my philosophy and it is one that we will continue to work toward.”

With the latest infusion of talent, the program’s expectations continue to grow and Locksley knows that.

“The next step for us is to start competing for championships. You have not heard me talk about this since I have been back but now is the time as we have taken these necessary growth steps the last three years, four yours if you count covid as a full year. It is time now for us to take the big leap and say it is time to compete for championships and the only way you can do that is by having a consistent product week in week out, and recruiting the best players we can possibly get in here.”

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