CHICAGO — DJ Durkin spent a little more than 10 minutes at the podium during Monday afternoon’s Big Ten Media Days, using much of that time to talk about the distant future of Maryland football. The second-year coach opened his address by detailing his program’s sparkling new $155 million indoor facility in College Park, which his team will move into this week and which promises to become a powerful recruiting beacon as the Terrapins try to keep up in the arms race of the Big Ten East.
More than half of the questions lobbed at Durkin in the swanky ballroom of the Hyatt Regency on Lake Michigan revolved around recruiting, and Durkin’s go-to talking point appeared to be the local high school talent in Maryland’s “backyard. He used the term at least four times.
“In many ways it’s sales. You have to have a good product to sell,” he said.
But for all the talk about where Maryland will be in the years to come, Durkin didn’t merely dismiss the present. He also was selling his vision of the 2017 Terrapins, who have 15 starters back from a team that won six games and made a bowl appearance in Durkin’s first season. But this group will face one of the most daunting schedules in the country next season, a slate that opens with Texas on Sept. 2 and includes another foray into perhaps the best division in college football.
“It’s not something we’ve talked about, no, but there’s been plenty of talk about it. So, obviously, I’m sure our players will hear about it. I think that’s the type of mentality our program has,” Durkin said. “That’s what we’re building. And I believe in many ways we have in terms of we do have something to prove, a chip on our shoulder.”
Before he spoke on Monday, Durkin ran into Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer, who gave Durkin his first job at Bowling Green in 2001. Meyer also gave Durkin another public vote of confidence during his meeting with reporters, nodding when asked if he can see Maryland surprising some teams this season. But he also couldn’t help talk about the future of the Terrapins’ program.
Maryland, which brought in one of the highest-rated recruiting classes in program history in February, currently has the 18th-best recruiting class in 2018, according to 247sports.com, which ranks only Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State ahead of the Terrapins in the Big Ten.
“I saw the new facility. It’s a great area for great players and recruiting, and he’s an excellent coach,” said Meyer, whose Buckeyes are the favorite to win the Big Ten and will host Maryland on Oct. 7. “I pull for him every game, except for one.”
That was a line that another Durkin mentor, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, used before his team demolished the Terrapins, 59-3, in Ann Arbor, Mich., last season. The following week, the Buckeyes ran it up in College Park with a 62-3 win, and after Nebraska had throttled Maryland, 24-7, in the penultimate game of the regular season, Durkin’s team had lost by a combined score 149-13 in three consecutive games and was handed a brutal reminder of just how far the program has to go to compete with the league’s blue bloods.
“I definitely think about it, because it’s embarrassing,” senior linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. “You don’t want to be on the wrong side of that. This season, we want to be on the right side of that . . . we want it to be known that we’re not going to stand for that.”
For the second consecutive year, Maryland was picked to finish sixth ahead of only Rutgers in the Big Ten East in an informal media poll conducted by Cleveland.com earlier this week. Aside from the gantlet of playing divisional opponents Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State, Maryland also plays on the road against Minnesota and Wisconsin, and will host Northwestern, which is expected by some to be a sleeper in the watered-down Big Ten West division. Seven of Maryland’s nine Big Ten opponents made appearances in bowl games last year, with four appearing in New Year’s Six games.
Maryland would like to fashion itself something of a sleeper, according to Carter, who listed the promising pieces this roster has on Monday.
The three players who traveled to Chicago are all cornerstones — Carter is expected to be among the league’s best linebackers, junior wide receiver D.J. Moore is the most experienced player returning at his position, and junior running back Ty Johnson headlines a backfield that returns over 80 percent of its production from last season — but there are still a litany of questions. The returning receiving corps around Moore caught three passes for 21 yards last season. The linebacker corps around Carter is thin.
And Maryland is still hoping to find a surefire starting quarterback, an issue that has long been at the forefront each August, even though Durkin is encouraged by the four options he has in junior Caleb Henderson, sophomores Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager and incoming four-star recruit Kasim Hill, who starred at St. John’s in the District last season.
Durkin was asked about how Hill, who is considered one of the most hyped quarterback prospects in the program’s recent history, might push the rest of the candidates to start under center, including Pigrome. For months, Durkin has answered questions about Hill’s future and how he might impact the program, but on Monday he could finally point to how the star recruit might start helping the program in the present.
“When you bring in great players, competition . . . it says a thousand words,” Durkin said. “You can just go let it settle on the field.”