- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ken Montgomery Jr., a four-star high school cornerback from Tampa, Fla., signed his letter of intent to play for Maryland Wednesday morning, picking the Terrapins over Louisville and Nebraska.

Montgomery was Maryland’s fifth four-star signing this year, the school’s third recruit in the ESPN 300 and, oddly, the only player coach D.J. Durkin signed on National Signing Day.

New NCAA rules this season created an early signing period on Dec. 20 for high school seniors to sign their national letters of intent, and most of Maryland’s class did so that day. That period made this year’s National Signing Day less dramatic than in years past. But with the Class of 2018 finalized, Durkin can claim his second consecutive top-30 recruiting class.

The scouting website 247Sports ranks Maryland’s class 28th in the country, while Rivals pegs it at No. 29 and ESPN at No. 30. (The services’ rankings vary based on their individual grades for players.) Maryland also had the fifth-best haul in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports, and sixth-best according to ESPN and Rivals.

Georgia, Ohio State and Texas signed the consensus top three classes, respectively, and Penn State appeared in the top five of each list as well. National champion Alabama was ranked as high as No. 4 by ESPN and as low as No. 12 by Rivals for an uncharacteristically light class.

Maryland’s class is 23 players deep with players hailing from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. The school’s final signing, Montgomery, was the 247th overall prospect in the nation in the ESPN 300.

The Terrapins also landed offensive tackle Jaelyn Duncan from St. Frances Academy in Baltimore and defensive tackle Austin Fontaine from nearby DeMatha Catholic High School. The 6-foot-5 Duncan is ESPN’s 69th overall prospect and the fourth-best tackle in the class. Fontaine, at 318 pounds, was ESPN’s 14th-ranked defensive tackle and 204th overall player.

Maryland focused on signing linemen like Duncan and Fontaine, Durkin told the Big Ten Network in December during the early signing period.

“When you look at it, throughout our class, there’s all positions represented again,” Durkin said. “We really made an emphasis on the line of scrimmage once again. I think last year we did a great job, we hit on a lot of guys, and again this year on offensive and defensive line. That’s where the game’s going, especially in this conference, and so we’re making a point of emphasis for that.”

In addition to those ESPN 300 signings, defensive end Byron Cowart may fly under the radar in this class.

Three years ago, Cowart was the top overall recruit in the Class of 2015, a five-star recruit from Florida.

Maryland made it into his top five schools, but Cowart picked Auburn. Two years later, Cowart chose to leave the Tigers’ program, studied at a community college near his home for a semester and signed with the Terps in December. Cowart told reporters a lack of playing time combined with a health issue his mother was facing caused him to leave Auburn.

Durkin said in December that Cowart would be a “game-changer” for Maryland.

Another transfer who will begin playing for the Terps next year is wide receiver Rayshad Lewis, son of newly announced Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. The younger Lewis previously played for Utah State, and though he does not count as a Class of 2018 signing, his impact will be felt in College Park at the same time as the new freshmen.

This class will join a team that faces a mixed bag of returning starters and departing seniors in 2018. The Terps will return their entire starting offensive line, their backfield and their young quarterbacks who were set back by injuries last fall. But wide receiver D.J. Moore and cornerback J.C. Jackson declared early for the draft, and several seniors on defense are graduating, including Jermaine Carter, Shane Cockerille and Kingsley Opara.

This time last year, Maryland signed a top-20 recruiting class, perhaps the best in program history. A good year on the recruiting trail was followed by a down year on the field, as the Terps finished 4-8 overall and 2-7 in Big Ten play in Durkin’s second year at the helm.

“We have a great product to sell,” Durkin said. “I think people understand the vision and where this program is going.”

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