- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen announced the signing of 21 players to letters of intent yesterday.

Friedgen welcomes a solid if not nationally acclaimed class that he said "greatly enhanced [the] speed" of the team, something the Terps lacked in the two blemishes of their storybook season losses to Florida State and Florida.

Randy Earle (6-foot-3, 229/North Massapequa, N.Y.), Reggie Holmes (6-1, 234/Bowie) and Shawne Merriman (6-3, 218/Upper Marlboro) lead the corps at linebacker, an area of emphasis for Friedgen. All three were ranked among the top 30 players in the nation at the position. Merriman, from Frederick Douglass, was named the state defensive player of the year by the Associated Press.

Friedgen said he was most concerned about depth at linebacker because the team lost starter Aaron Thompson and several reserves from last season. He tabbed Holmes as "the [eventual] replacement for E.J. [Henderson, the Terps' All-American]."

Another area of focus for Friedgen and the Terps was in the secondary, where their top three safeties and best cornerback will not return. Safety Marcus Wimbush (5-11, 180), from Dunbar in the District, leads a group that includes Lackawanna (Pa.) Junior College transfer Reuben Haigler (6-0, 179) and Jo Jo Walker (5-10, 165/Carrollton, Texas).

Maryland recruited four quarterbacks including Orlando Evans (6-0, 190), who transferred from City College of San Francisco, where he led the team to the mythical national championship. Sam Hollenbach (6-5, 215/Philadelphia), Domonique Richmond (6-0, 183/Hagerstown) and Joel Statham (6-1, 185/Chatsworth, Ga.) are the three other quarterbacks.

There wasn't a Maryland player that the Terps wanted that didn't sign with the school, Friedgen said. Overall, the Terps got eight players from Maryland, four from Pennsylvania and two each from Georgia and New York.

Elsewhere, Virginia pulled off one of the biggest surprises of National Signing Day, getting commitments from 26 blue-chip prospects enough for the Cavs to rate among the best classes in the country.

Virginia Tech announced commitments from 20 players, including Marcus Vick, the younger brother of former Hokies quarterback Michael Vick.

But Virginia stole the spotlight with its huge haul of talent. The list includes four Parade All-Americans: linebackers Ahmad Brooks of Woodbridge and Kai Parham of Virginia Beach, running back Michael Johnson of Newport News and defensive end Kwakou Robinson of New York.

It is a recruiting list that caught the attention of national analysts, who ranked it in the top 10 with Texas and other powerhouses.

The Hokies' class includes running back Mike Imoh of Fairfax, the AP's Group AAA player of the year in Virginia. Also signed by Tech was 6-5, 300-pound offensive lineman Brandon Gore of Warrenton, Va.

Nationally, Texas got commitments from almost every player it pursued, keeping the best players at home and picking up a few key out-of-staters.

Notre Dame closed well under new coach Tyrone Willingham, getting talented receiver Rhema McKnight (La Palma, Calif.).

*The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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