- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Commitments from 24 players, including three four-star talents and two who flipped their choices, highlight the list of Maryland’s early football signees Wednesday for its 2023 recruiting class.

Part of the National Signing Day early period, Maryland’s evenly-split group of 12 offensive and 12 defensive players features players from eight different states and the District. It’s currently the No. 33 ranked class in the nation, according to 247 Sports.

Maryland coach Mike Locksley said the class addresses two of the Terrapins’ most pressing needs.

“For us this year, the two major areas for us was addressing the pass rush as well as our wide receiver position,” Locksley said.

At receiver, the group includes the top two rated players from the state of Maryland in Potomac native Ezekiel Avit and Glenn Dale’s Ryan Manning. They’re two of the 10 recruits from the Washington-Baltimore area, something Locksley has prioritized since returning to Maryland in 2019, noting that the quality of talent in the region isn’t a secret anymore.

“The goal is to keep the best players here that want to stay here,” Locksley said. “And again, we don’t always get them all. But we want to get our fair share and really do a great job of mining and taking care of our backyard before we go to somebody else’s.”

Locksley has been successful in recent seasons at getting multiple highly-touted recruiting targets to flip their commitments from other schools to Maryland. Last year, it was Baltimore linebacker Jaishawn Barham’s flip from South Carolina that was the feather in Locksley’s cap. Bolstering the defense this year are linebacker Neeo Avery and defensive back Tamarcus Cooley.

“The last 48 hours is obviously a big push not just for me, but for anybody that’s in this business of recruiting, because I can just tell you it gets really crazy and wacky the last 48 hours,” Locksley said of his ability in getting players to flip. “And I know there’s some schools out there that think there’s some, you know, 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.”

Cooley is a three-star prospect who verbally committed to Maryland’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl opponent, North Carolina State. Avery, a four-star talent who played at Good Counsel in Olney, was a top five-rated player in Maryland by ESPN and was previously committed to Ole Miss. His teammate at Good Counsel, linebacker Dylan Gooden, and Hickory, North Carolina, tight end Rico Walker are the Terrapins’ other four-star early commitments.

“A lot of places, they sell what I call fluff. And what I sell is people and relationships,” Locksley said. “You underpromise and overdeliver in terms of the programming within our program, the things that will make them the best version of themselves. We do some unique things within our program because our location allows us to, and it’s been really helpful.”

The ability for players to capitalize monetarily on their own name, image and likeness (NIL) has dramatically altered how recruiting goes down at many schools. Locksley stressed that he’s “a guy that’s gonna follow the rules” in not using NIL as an “inducement” for recruiting. 

What he does instead is tout the economic and corporate power of the D.C. area to recruits and the partnerships his program has built to give players the opportunity to capitalize on playing in the capital region.

“I definitely have no problem with sharing the fact that where we’re located in an area that is so densely populated with all types of Fortune 500 companies within a 30-minute drive of our campus,” Locksley said. “We’re in the fourth-largest or fifth-largest media market in the country, to where if you do go out and play really well you can create a brand for yourself that will allow you to take advantage of the new rules of name, image and likeness.”

While bending to a new area in regards to NIL, Locksley is more of a traditionalist in building his classes — preferring to find talent among high school players first before seeking a former three-or-four star in the transfer portal.

“I’m not one of those guys that’s going to be hopping through the portal for 50% of my class,” Locksley said. “We’re going to really build this thing with high school football players. We will use the transfer portal and junior college to feel necessary needs where we need immediate help with the immediate experience. And I think that’s the only way you can keep a consistent culture in your locker room from year to year.”

Eight of the 24 will enroll early in College Park, and some will be able to take part in the Terrapins’ practices ahead of the Dec. 30 bowl. One notable athlete not included in the early group is Nyckoles Harbor. The five-star, two-sport prospect from D.C.’s Archbishop Carroll High School is arguably the best high school talent in America and will wait until the final signing day on Feb. 1 to make his college decision. Maryland, Michigan and South Carolina are reportedly his leading candidates.

Maryland’s 2023 Early-Signee Class:

DB Jonathan Akins, Madison, Florida.

LB Neeo Avery, Glen Burnie, Maryland.

WR Ezekiel Avit, Potomac, Maryland.

DB Tamarcus Cooley, Knightdale, North Carolina.

OL Deandre Diffus, Hollywood, Florida.

DL Dillan Fontus, Arverne, New York.

LB Dylan Gooden, Columbia, Maryland.

DL Lavon Johnson, Allentown, Pennsylvania.

QB Champ Long, Jersey City, New Jersey.

WR Ryan Manning, Glenn Dale, Maryland.

DB Alex Moore, Beltsville, Maryland.

DB Mykel Morman, District Heights, Maryland.

DB Tayvon Nelson, New York, New York.

RB Nolan Ray, Southfield, Michigan.

WR Josh Richards, East Orange, New Jersey.

LB DJ Samuels, Englewood, New Jersey.

TE AJ Szymanski, Timonium, Maryland.

DB Kevis Thomas, Valdosta, Georgia.

TE Dylan Wade, Ocoee, Florida.

TE Rico Walker, Hickory, North Carolina.

OL Tamarus Walker, Baltimore, Maryland.

WR Sean Williams, Washington D.C.

LB Daniel Wingate, Bowie, Maryland.

RB Braeden Wisloski, Elysburg, Pennsylvania.

• George Gerbo can be reached at ggerbo@washingtontimes.com.

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