As has been the case for 10 years now, FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW has ranked the top 10 HBCU FCS recruiting classes. The rankings are based on research that we did based upon school releases, local newspaper articles, and recruiting boards.
Special thanks go out to the various beat writers at respective newspapers and to the sports information directors.
- Tennessee State
There aren’t many head football coaches who make as many personal visits to prospective players’ homes as Tennessee State head coach Rod Reed. It goes back to his days as recruiting coordinator as an assistant coach at TSU – his alma mater – under James Webster. And as the OVC continues to get tougher, it means Tennessee State has to step up its recruiting in a major way. And they did just that with this class. TSU garnered our top spot for the third time in five years.
“After getting out on the road we felt like we got some guys that can help us,” said Reed who is entering his seventh season as the head coach at TSU. “We added some explosiveness on offense. You have to be good up front if you want to be successful and we did a good job of adding some young men in the trenches. We added some players to our defensive line as well. The coaches did a really good job. I want to thank my athletic director and administration for allowing us the opportunity to go out and recruit. Having the number one class in HBCU is special.”
The Tigers really focused on linemen – on both side of the ball – as six linemen in a row signed with the Tigers on Wednesday between 10:47 a.m. and 1:14 p.m. CT. In all, eight of TSU’s 22 recruits were linemen, four on each side of the ball. This will help the Tigers particularly on the offensive side of the ball, where TSU finished next to last in the OVC in rushing yards per game (123.4). This is a program that has produced some of the FCS’ top linemen in recent years, including the only two HBCU players taken in the 2014 NFL Draft. Jamahl Jelks from Gadsen City High School in Alabama is versatile and can play tackle and center at 6’3”, 320. He was named as one of Alabama’s top 100 players and the eighth best offensive lineman in the state. He also received offers from fellow OVC member Jacksonville State and Southern Mississippi. Whereas Jelks will not have the experience of spring ball coming into the season, Merced Community College teammates Xzavier McAllister and Jatitus ‘Ty’ Allen have collegiate experience and could see action immediately. Defensively, TSU received a pair of Rivals three-star defensive tackles in Michael Perry (Whitehaven) and Justin Andrews (Kathleen). Perry, who was also rated three stars by ESPN, was rated the 24th best player in Tennessee and had multiple offers including from Tennessee and Memphis. Andrews had offers from Kentucky, Louisville, Marshall, South Alabama, South Florida, UCF and Virginia Tech. The Tigers also signed an experienced tackle in Terrence Summers from Hutchinson CC, a Rivals two-star player who is listed at 6’2”, 310. TSU’s class wasn’t just limited to the line. With quarterback O’Shay Ackerman-Carter having a solid freshman campaign, aided by some good wide receivers who are young led by second team All-OVC performer Patrick Smith, the Tigers got deeper by signing a couple of Rivals two-star Georgia products in Sabree Curtis, Jr. (Creekside) and Major Bellamy, Jr. (Central Gwinnett) and an explosive local product who can run and catch in Ravenwood’s Chris Rowland. The Tigers also once again opted to go with experience by signing Navy transfer Ronnie Killings who played at Blackman in Murfreesboro.
- Prairie View A&M
The Panthers had an extremely impressive season under first-year head coach Willie Simmons in 2015 finishing second to SWAC Western Division champion Grambling State, who was their only conference loss of the season. The PV offense was high-powered and ranked tops in the SWAC and was one of the tops in FCS, led by quarterback Trey Green and all-purpose back Johnta’ Hebert. Hebert is graduating as is running back Courtney Brown, but the Panthers were able to sign three running backs, two of them the top 10 rushers in the Dallas-Fortworth area in Caleb Broach (Rockwall) and two-star recruit Dawonya Tucker (Terrell). Both have Hebert-like ability and combined to rush for 4,041 yards and 44 touchdowns and caught 45 passes for 636 yards and four touchdowns. PV also signed former three-star and South Florida recruit Stafon McCray who transfers in from Arizona Western CC. The Panthers were looking towards the future when they signed two-star quarterback Neiko Hollins (Hightower), who has great size (6-4, 225) and threw for 1,692 yards and 16 touchdowns during his senior season. The defensive secondary was of big concern for the Panthers and they addressed it by bringing in four defensive backs led by consensus three-star recruit and perhaps the jewel of the class Ju’Anthony “Juice” Parker who played at Dallas’ South Oak Cliff. Parker also received an offer from Louisville. Reggie Stubblefield (Sam Houston High School) and Damien Crumitie and from Tallahassee, Fla.’s Leon High School could pay dividends sooner than later. In all 13 of the 19 signees were from Texas with eight receiving a two-star rating and Parker the three-star rating.
- Norfolk State
Norfolk State head coach Latrell Scott had a full year under his belt to recruit this year after being hired as the Spartans head coach in December 2014. Less two years of his career as wide receivers coach at Western Carolina and Tennessee, Scott has spent his entire career in the state of Virginia and knows Virginia well. This was reflected in the Spartans recruiting class as 12 of the 15 signees were in state, 10 of them from the Tide Water area. The Spartans addressed serious needs on the offensive line signing five. Quarterback Greg Hankerson had a solid junior campaign, but was sacked 37 times. On top of that the Spartans averaged only 99.5 yards rushing per game. Two of the linemen played in nearby Chesapeake. Dominic Jordan (Oscar Smith) was rated as one of the top 20 seniors in the football-rich Tidewater area, plays all o-line positions and also doubles as a long snapper. Kevin Staton (Indian River) was an ESPN three-star recruit and rated as one of the top 100 guards in the country. Two big Fork Union graduates could come in and play right away for the Spartans in Kenneth Kirby (6-5, 275) and Jordan Crockett (6-5, 325); both are already enrolled at NSU and will participate in spring drills. Wide receiver DeAndre Sangster returns for his senior year, but with the graduation of Isaac White, the Spartans signed a couple of receivers in hometown product Devon Watford (Norview) and Marcque Ellington, who stands 6’5” and played at St. John-Vianney High School in New Jersey. Watford caught 36 passes for 820 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior while for Ellington, of his 16 receptions, 11 were for touchdowns. He was also a standout basketball player. If these two aren’t catching passes from Hankerson this year, perhaps in the future they will be catching passes from a couple of highly touted quarterbacks in Tyre Givers-Wilson (Indian River) and Tripp Harrington from North Carolina’s East Wake. Givers-Wilson is a two-star recruit according to Scout and passed for 1,805 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior. He graduated early and is already enrolled at NSU. Harrington rushed for 1,187 yards and 16 touchdowns while passing for 2,507 yards and 24 more scores as a senior. The Spartans added some depth to the running game by signing Virginia Beach product Malik Butts (Salem) who rushed for 1,066 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior.
- South Carolina State
Another good class for head coach Buddy Pough and his staff, South Carolina State has been in the top five every year since we began ranking the classes in 2006. Like last year, SCSU signed a large class of 29, but the dynamics of where the players are from is a little different. Seventeen of those players are from the Palmetto state which the Bulldogs have always done a great job of keeping top talent in state. SCSU had been recruiting the state of North Carolina pretty heavily the last couple of years (two-time BOXTOROW Willie Davis Defensive Player of the Year Javon Hargrave is from Salisbury), but this year only three are from North Carolina. Instead, seven players from Georgia signed with SCSU. The Bulldogs had eight players that participated in the North/South All-Star game. The Bulldogs placed emphasis on the offensive line and running backs. There have been some great offensive linemen to come through Orangeburg and the Bulldogs signed six with this year’s class led by Rivals two-star lineman Malcolm Garrett (Cross), who was one of four selected to play in the North-South All-star Game. Newberry’s Demarcus Gilmore (6’3”, 340) was selected to play in the Shrine Bowl, the nation’s oldest high school all-star football game in the nation. With the graduation of three running backs including Scoot Simmons, the Bulldogs signed a couple of two-star running backs in North Charleston’s Datron James (Fort Dorchester) and Labron Morris from Cedar Grove High in Georgia. James rushed for 1,771 yards on 284 carries and scored 33 touchdowns while Morris rushed for over 1,700 yards for the second-straight season. Defensively, while Hargrave is irreplaceable, the Bulldogs did sign a couple of Georgia two-star linebackers in Elijah Bandy (Cedar Grove) and Jarrod Jones (West Lake) who also received offers from Southern Miss, Buffalo, Kent State, and Charlotte.
For the second year in a row, Wildcats head coach Terry Sims has a top five class. B-CU continues to recruit Florida extremely well as 22 of the 28 recruits are from the Sunshine State. Offensive line and the defensive backfield were a priority as the Wildcats signed seven and nine, respectively. Despite having the best offense in the MEAC last year (445 yards per game) the Wildcats will lose three starters in the trenches. A pair of Lackawanna College transfers – both from Ohio – at the very least gives B-CU depth immediately. It is also possible that Jaylen Funches and Chris Adams could come in and play right away. Also a couple of highly regarded Florida linemen signed with SCSU in Rivals three-star recruit Keldrick Cesar (Edison) and Jamal Savage (Plant City). Cesar is versatile and could contribute immediately to the Wildcats read-option offense. He was rated one of the top 74 offensive lineman in the state of Florida and had offers from South Florida, Syracuse and Temple. Savage was also ranked as one of the top linemen in Florida. With the graduation of All-MEAC first team quarterback Quentin Williams, Larry Brihm looks to take over the duties full-time. That did not stop the Wildcats from looking towards the future and signing junior college transfer Anthony Cruz, who led all JUCO quarterbacks in completion percentage (70.5), while averaging 204.3 passing yards per game and throwing for 16 touchdowns. At 6’5” 210, Cruz is more of a pocket passer. Leading rusher Anthony Jordan is lost to graduation, but second leading rusher Michael Jones returns. B-CU can continue its one-two running back combination as Nassau CC transfer Marcus Levy gives the Wildcats a runner that can have an immediate impact. Levy originally signed with Bowling Green out of Fort Pierce (Fla.) High. At NCC this past season he carried the ball 120 times for 627 yards and 10 touchdowns. In the secondary, the Wildcats lose three, but signed a couple of Florida two-star recruits in Trevor Merritt (Viera) and Davonte Lawrence (Raines).
- Florida A&M
2015 was a tough year for Rattler first-year head coach Alex Wood, who only measures the success of his program by wins and losses. The Rattlers finished the season 1-10 but played better in the second half of the season. After a good recruiting class last year, the Rattlers put together another a good recruiting class and got some help in the skills position department. Before we get to the skill players, a huge get and one if not the biggest signing was that of Obinna Nwankwo from Mirimar. The Rivals three-star selection turned down several schools including Jacksonville State, Coastal Carolina and Florida International to sign with the Rattlers. Depth on the offensive line was an issue for the Rattlers last year and they signed a total of four. North Marion’s Cameron Mackey was first team All-State as a senior had 2,726 career rushing yards and nine career kickoff returns for touchdowns. Quarterback Carson Royal showed some flashes last year, but struggled at times and FAMU signed two-star recruit Tahj Tolbert from Lanier in Georgia. He led his team to back-to-back undefeated seasons and also received an offer from Buffalo. Dock Luckie (Gainesville) was a first-team All-Area selection and caught 53 passes for 720 yards, 10 touchdowns. On defense FAMU signed a couple of two-star defensive backs in Mack Green from Hapeville Charter in Georgia and Andrew Hines (Hallandale) a second team All-Broward performer. Last but not least linebacker Lyndon Edwards, a transfer from ASA Miami JC, had 21.5 sacks, 31 tackles for loss and 87 tackles (71 solo) last year.
- Alabama State
Hornets head coach Brian Jenkins has plenty of contacts outside of Alabama and with this being his first true recruiting class he used those contacts to sign 17 players, 12 outside the state of Alabama. Quarterback is a need with the graduation of Daniel Duhart. Eli Richardson saw some action but if history with Jenkins and quarterbacks is any indicator Richardson is not necessarily the starter. The Hornets signed three quarterbacks including Jimmy Ferrell from Nashville Tennessee’s Pearl Cohn, a Rivals two-star player who had an offer from New Mexico State and was ranked the 33rd best player in Tennessee. He completed 170-of-280 passes for 2,974 yards with 28 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Florida product Kobie Jones (Dunnellon) is a two-star quarterback who had an offer from Air Force. The Hornets also signed local product Kha’ Darrius Davis (Bessemer). The biggest signing by position for the Hornets was defensive back as ASU signed five including Ezra Gray a two-star prospect according to 247sports from Lynn Haven in Florida. Linebacker Darron Johnson from Memphis’ Ridgeway is a Rivals two-star prospect and received an offer from Air Force.
When ranking these classes, more credence is given to high school players, prep school players, and JUCO transfers. FBS transfers are figured in less; however the Tigers have some FBS transfers that fill holes immediately. Broderick Fobbs, the reigning BOXTOROW National Coach of the Year and his staff was able to sign former Ole Miss quarterback DeVante Kincade, Texas wide receiver Montrel Meander, Texas Tech safety Derrick Dixon and Arizona wide receiver D.J. Clark. Kincade, a former third-stringer with the Rebels, wanted to be closer to home. He could replace BOXTOROW National Offensive Player of the Year Johnathan Williams who is lost to graduation. Meander and Clark can help replace the 46 receptions for 707 yards and six touchdowns put up by Chester Rogers, who is lost to graduation. GSU concentrated its efforts on the offensive line signing nine including two Louisiana two-star players in Carl Wilmer (Marksville) and Che Manning (Ouachita Christian). They also signed a couple of out of state Rivals two-star players in quarterback Geremy Hickbottom (Williamson in Alabama) and running back/wide receiver Lyndemian Brooks.
- Alabama State
With a star quarterback and running back returning for 2016, four of Dawson Odums and the Southern coaching staff’s biggest signings were quarterbacks and running backs. A pair of Southern Lab players will stay at home as the Jaguars signed Rivals two-star quarterback Bladrick Veal who had offers from Hawaii, Houston, La Tech and Southern Mississippi and Darbbeon Profit who had offers from Southern Miss. and Louisiana-Lafayette. SU also signed another running back in local product Tevin Horton (John Curtis) who transfers back home from Garden City CC. Odums, who was is from Shelby, N.C., also signed Darquez Lee from Shelby, who led his team to back-to-back state championships and threw for over 4,000 yards and 54 touchdowns during his prep career.
Hampton and third-year head coach Connell Maynor move up the charts this year with the signing of a couple of local products including Landstown wide receiver Noah Boone who caught 38 passes for 583 yards and five touchdowns this past season and was a First Team All-Conference performer. BOXTOROW All-American T.J. Mixson returns, but with the graduation of second leading receiver Sequan Gooding, Boone could see time immediately. Boone also received an offer from ODU. Bethel’s Terry Chisley figures to play a role in the Pirates secondary and was a varsity player all four years. With quarterback David Watford gone and Antoine Terrell not returning, Maynor once again turns to the transfer ranks to find JUCO transfer Keon Marsh from Peninsula CC. Marsh, who is already enrolled at Hampton and will participate in spring ball, threw for 2,145 yards and 19 touchdowns last year. In two years, he threw for 4,842 yards and 37 touchdown passes. In the backfield the Pirates lose running back Christopher Dukes but sign Tarus Dameron from Lincolnton High School in North Carolina, who rushed for 2,304 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior and JUCO transfer Yahkee Johnson from Nassau CC, who played locally for L.C. Bird. Johnson rushed for 945 yards and 10 touchdowns and Nassau in 2014.
- Jackson State
Tony Hughes was known as a great recruiter during his days at Mississippi State. In this his first year at Jackson State, he continues to recruit well. The JSU staff did not meet for the first time until January 4 and in 30 days was able to sign 29 players. They were also able to get their number one target in North Pike quarterback Juwan Adams. Adams completed 61 percent of his passes for 3,368 yards and 29 touchdowns. Adams will have to wait his turn behind LaMontiez Ivy, but looks to be the Tigers’ future signal-caller. The Tigers also signed three running backs in Rivals two-star prospect Terrell Kennedy from Alabama’s McGill-Toolen, Terry Sullivan from Louisiana’s Zachary, who rushed for 1,521 yards and 18 touchdowns on 225 attempts in leading his team to the Class 5A state championship run, and Mississippi product Deon Cole (Gulfport) who rushed for 1,668 yards and 16 touchdowns.
- North Carolina A&T
The MEAC co-champions and BOXTOROW national champs signed a small class of 15, which fills needs on a team that returns 10 starters on offense and eight on defense. The Aggies class is intriguing as three of the players are from West Virginia. Elijah Bell (Wheeling Park) was the recipient of the Randy Moss award, given annually to the top wide receiver in West Virginia. He led the state in receiving yards (1,214) and touchdowns (17) on 50 receptions. He was named the USA Today Offensive Player of the Year for West Virginia and helped Wheeling Park earn the Class AAA state championship. The Aggies were certainly looking to the future when they signed his teammate Savion Johnson, a 5’10” 220 Rivals two-star running back who received an offer from Akron. Johnson rushed for 1,884 yards and 26 touchdowns on 276 carries. With the graduation of quarterback Kwashaun Quick, the Aggies quarterback situation is up in the air. Kentre’ Grier (South Charleston) was a four-year starter. As a junior he was 220-for-306 (.719) for 3,533 yards, 47 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, while rushing for another 1,061 yards and 13 touchdowns on 169 carries. For his career, he threw for 9,350 yards and 111 touchdowns. On defense the Aggies signed two-star prospect defensive tackle Shomari Wallace (North Carolina’s South View) where he played varsity for four years and linebacker Leon “Tre” Smalls from South Carolina’s Hanahan, who played in the Shrine Bowl game and registered 129 tackles on the season.
- Jackson State