Eight University of Maryland football recruits from the class of 2017 enrolled early for the semester that began Jan. 25 and will be eligible for spring practice, the Terps announced this week.
The players are cornerbacks Fofie Bazzie, Deon Jones and Alex Woods; safety Markquese Bell; linebacker Nick Underwood; buck linebacker Bryce Brand; quarterback Ryan Brand and offensive tackle Tyran Hunt.
The rest of this year's recruiting class will be announced on National Signing Day Feb. 1.
"We are thrilled to have these young men join our program and enroll early at the University of Maryland for the spring semester," Terps head coach DJ Durkin said in a statement released by the team. "I'm excited that these student-athletes will be afforded the opportunity to adjust to the college life, both academically and athletically. Each of them has a bright future here at Maryland, and we are happy to welcome them as the first members of an outstanding recruiting class."
Jones and Bell, both defensive backs, are the highest-rated recruits among those who enrolled early. Jones is a Rivals.com four-star recruit out of Potomac High in Oxon Hill, Md., while Bell is a four-star from Bridgeton High in Bridgeton, N.J. Both figure to get an early shot at playing time .
Maryland's defensive backfield is losing cornerbacks Alvin Hill and Will Likely to graduation and perhaps senior safety Denzel Conyers, too, though Conyers has been vocal about his
desire to secure a medical redshirt
. Conyers tore his ACL at Central Florida Sept. 15.
Otherwise, the top returners in the defensive backfield are safety Darnell Savage Jr. and cornerback JC Jackson, both of whom are rising juniors. Additionally, rising senior Josh Woods and rising sophomore Qwuantrezz Knight got plenty of run at safety, while rising junior RaVon Davis and rising sophomore Tino Ellis got a lot of time at corner.
Jones, listed by Maryland at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, is rated by Rivals.com as the third-best prospect in Maryland. Jones committed to the Terps last summer but was forced to sit out his senior year at Potomac with a torn ACL.
"[Jones] is a big defensive back, either a cornerback or a safety. I like to say he's got safety size but cornerback skills and technique," said Adam Friedman, a mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "He's got very good footwork. He's got great length, so he can cover a lot of ground, and that's going to be very valuable when Maryland plays some of those teams with bigger wide receivers. It's all going to depend on how he comes back from that knee injury."
Bell, listed by the Terps at 6-foot-3 and 194 pounds, played in the 2017 Under Armour All-America Game Jan. 1 and starred on both sides of the ball in high school. During his senior year, Bell had 76 tackles and two interceptions on the defensive side of the ball and rushed for 885 yards and seven touchdowns on offense. An excellent athlete, Bell also starred in track and field in high school.
"He could be a day one contributor -- one of the best athletic prospects in this class for Maryland, about 6-foot-3, probably a day one starter or at least contributor at the safety position," Friedman said. "I think that he covers a ton of ground. He made some very good plays at the Under Armour game and during the week of practice. I see him, as he develops and learns the system and learns to play within the system, that [he] could be very important for Maryland's secondary, an area that they certainly need some help in."
Another area of need for the Terps is the offensive line, which is losing its leader, left tackle Michael Dunn, to graduation. Last year, the unit was effective in blocking for a productive running game led by rising junior Ty Johnson but struggled to protect the passer; Maryland quarterbacks were sacked 49 times in 2016.
By enrolling early, Hunt will get a head start on his development, though it's difficult for freshmen linemen to see the field; they're typically just not ready physically and need a year in the weight room. A three-star offensive lineman out of Southampton High in Courtland, Va., Hunt is listed at 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds by Maryland.
"[Hunt's] got a ways to go developing, but he's 6-foot-6, about 260, 270 pounds, and he needs to develop that frame a little bit more," Friedman said. "But he's got good athleticism, he's got the size to be a left tackle, and he's a very intelligent player. I think that he could see the field as early as his sophomore season."
Among the five others who enrolled early -- Bazzie, Underwood, Woods, along with Ryan and Bryce Brand -- the Brand brothers, originally from Detroit, are of particular note. Bryce Brand, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound buck linebacker, was originally committed to Arizona, but Maryland flipped him in December.
Ryan Brand, a 5-foot-10, 193-pound quarterback, joins his younger brother on campus as a walk-on. He most recently played at the College of San Mateo before coming to College Park, Md. Ryan Brand will join rising sophomores Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager, rising redshirt sophomore Gage Schaffer and rising junior Caleb Henderson as quarterbacks on the spring roster.