Building a championship college football program begins with building a recruiting fence around that school’s backyard.
For a college coach to build a winning team, he must first connect with the community and keep top high school student athletes in his region at home. Maryland head coach Mike Locksley knows it.
From 2016 to 2018 the Terps failed to secure a single 5-star recruit from the D.C., Maryland, Virginia region as elite talents Chase Young (Ohio State), Ricky Slade (Penn State), Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State), Rasheed Walker (Penn State) and P.J. Mustipher (Penn State) all walked out the back gate. It’s one thing to lose 4 and 5-star talent to schools in the SEC, it’s another entirely when in-conference Big 10 opponents fleece them from under their nose.
Mike Locksley knows that, too.
“For us to get this program where it’s capable of going, it starts with owning this local area.” Locksley said. “There are so many talented players in this area and the coaching has continued to improve. If you look around the country, all the top teams have some representation from here and I’ve always thought if we can find a way to keep the top talent at home we’d be able to turn this program fast and really put it on a strong foundation.”
Enter Rakim Jarrett.
There are few, if any, recent athletes with more talent or name recognition than Jarrett. The 5-star wide receiver from St. John’s is a game changer. Any time the ball is in his hands, he’s a threat to score. Beyond being a big-play threat, he’s a route-running technician who excels in 3rd down situations. He is projected to make an instant impact on the offensive side of the ball— which is why when he spurned LSU and flipped to the Terps, Locksley knew he may have just landed the piece he needed.
“He’s [Jarrett] a kid that could go anywhere in the country, but isn’t afraid to go somewhere and start his own trend.” Locksley said, “I think he was part of one of the first classes of middle schoolers to go to St. John’s to try to make a difference and compete against the DeMathas and Gonzagas of the world.
Locksley added: “[Jarrett] showed at an early age that he wasn’t a follower and wasn’t afraid to go outside the box He played a major role — along with the kids who came with him — of putting that program on the map.”
As effective a recruiter as he may have been as an 8th grader, Jarrett’s influence has grown with age. Utilizing Twitter and Instagram to create a national platform, Jarrett has developed into an ad hoc resident rockstar who is just as electrifying on social media as he is on the playing field.
His attraction is proving to be magnetic as top 2021 recruits Taize Johnson (St. John’s), Antwain Littleton (St. John’s), Zion Shockley (St. Frances) and Joe Bearns (St. Frances) have all given verbal commitments to the Terps since the Jarrett signing became official.
Even the likes of Demeioun Robinson (Quince Orchard) and Landon Tengwall (Good Counsel) have shown some interest in Maryland in recent weeks. Locksley has seen such a trend before and believes it can continue.
“For me, this isn’t necessarily my first rodeo. We did this with Vernon Davis in the early 2000’s, we did it with Shawn Merriman, we did it with guys like Stefon Diggs, who was a big-time player in this area and even Yannick Ngakoue,” Locksley said. “So we’ve had the ability to attract these types of kids, we just haven’t done so as frequently as of late. But with Rakim coming to Maryland, it kind of validates that we’re a program that has the ability to take a top kid like him and develop him and it opens the eyes of some of the other kids who are following him.”
In 2016, the Terps were able to create a similar buzz as top recruits from DeMatha Terrance Davis, Tino Ellis and D.J. Turner led the #StayHomeMovement. Coaching instability, program inconsistencies and lack of ample victories were amongst the issues that halted the subsequent march upon College Park.
“If you count my run as an interim coach in 2015, we’ve had four head coaches in a five-year span.” Locksley said, “We’ve had a bunch of assistants come and go with the changes at the top and it’s hard to have consistency in your recruiting philosophy and structure of your organization when that’s the case. It’s challenging to consistently get the players [you target] when you’ve had three, four head coaches that have different philosophies of how they want to recruit the area. And that’s hurt our local recruiting more than anything.”
Upon their arrival last year, Locksley and staff were able to flip Nick Cross (DeMatha) and secure Isaiah Hazel (Wise) — two players who join Jarrett as building blocks for regional recruiting.
“When we came in the door last January, the 21’ class is really what we targeted.” Locksley said, “With recruiting being a two-year cycle, we knew we were behind with the 2020 class because there were guys in this area that I’d recruited and gotten committed at other places that I’d worked, so we really put a target on the 21’ kids to develop really strong and meaningful relationships with them. I think this class will be the one that will be the catalyst to get the foundation to where we want it to be.”
With Rakim Jarrett waving the Maryland flag, inevitably more high-level 2021 DMV recruits will consider the Terps and Locksley knows what that can mean for the success of the program.
“I was here from 1997 to 2003 and had a chance to see us win 10 games a year, three years in a row under Coach [Ralph] Friedgen,” Locksley said. “And the catalyst for that success started with owning the local talent here at home.”
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.
MORE HIGH SCHOOL NEWS
This content was originally published here.