- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Derrick Harvey, a standout defensive end from Eleanor Roosevelt High School and the area’s top-ranked prep recruit, capped a stellar senior season with one last scintillating stunt.

The 6-foot-5, 228-pound rush end who set a state record with 31 sacks this season stunned both recruiting experts and the gaggle of Maryland fans on hand at ESPN Zone yesterday by choosing Florida over the hometown Terrapins in a nationally televised commitment announcement.

“My heart was just telling me to go down there,” said Harvey, who will join several thousand other prepsters in making that commitment official when he puts pen to paper this morning as part of college football’s National Signing Day. “I really think Florida was just the best fit for me.”

Right up until Harvey donned a blue Gators cap during the ceremony, most observers expected the coveted player to join his blue-chip Roosevelt teammates Trey Covington and Jared Gaither by pledging his services to Maryland.

“I told [Covington and Gaither my intentions] two days ago, and I don’t think they believed me,” said Harvey, whom recruiting service Rivals.com ranks as the No.8 high school player in the nation. “They still thought I was going to Maryland. … It was a really tough choice, but Florida just felt right.”

Harvey is one of dozens of high-profile players who decided to announce his college choice on TV as media coverage has expanded to satisfy a recent explosion of interest in the recruiting process and resolution.

“The difference between the attention recruiting received five years ago and the attention it now receives is staggering,” said Bobby Burton, a longtime recruiting analyst who founded Rivals in 1997. “Five years ago, we had 5,500 subscribers to the service. Now, we have 90,000. The Internet has changed everything. Thanks to the Internet, the serious college football fan knows who the top prep prospects are now, and so there’s just a lot more attention on the whole process. … National Signing Day is like our Super Bowl.”

Even though the Terps missed on Harvey, Maryland is still expected to sign a consensus top-20 class, its best performance on the recruiting trail in decades.

“You really have to respect the job [coach Ralph] Friedgen has done at Maryland,” Burton said. “He’s totally turned that program around, and the most talented kids out there have definitely taken note.”

The deepest bows, however, belong to Southern Cal and coach Pete Carroll. Though several dozen of the nation’s most prized prospects have yet to announce their intentions, nobody is catching the class headed to USC. Capitalizing on the momentum generated by last season’s co-national title, the Trojans have garnered commitments from a staggering assortment of stars, mining the best prospects from all over the nation. Three of the top five junior college players in the nation are headed to Los Angeles, as well as three of the top-ranked prep position players — center Jeff Byers of Loveland, Colo.; linebacker Keith Rivers of Lake Mary, Fla.; and defensive end Jeff Schweiger Jr. of San Jose, Calif.

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