by Donal Ware
After some re-evaluation over the last few days, this class is a bit different than what I mentioned this past weekend on FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW.
As has been the case for 12 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 goes out to the various beat writers at respective newspapers and to the sports information directors.
1. Tennessee State
Head coach Rod Reed and his staff continues to recruit well and will look to build upon a 2017 season that was ultimately not the season the Tigers expected. The Tigers continue to put a premium on offensive linemen, signing seven even though they only lose one starter from last year. TSU has had four linemen drafted more recently; two each in 2014 and 2015. 2016 BOXTOROW All-America Jessamen Dunker was invited to the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine and signed a free agent deal with the New York Jets last year. Quite a few of the linemen give the Tigers versatility as center/guard combo. The most notable lineman is guard Cedrick Banks from Southern University Lab in Baton Rouge, La. He’s listed as a 247 Sports three-star player and was ranked as the 27th best offensive center in the country and the 69th best player in Louisiana. Guards Raymond Horton (Mainland in Daytona Beach) and Anthony Williams (Texas Hightower) are two-star linemen. Horton received offers from Florida International, Florida Atlantic and Marshall and Williams could provide depth immediately and received an offer from UCF. Tackle Marlon Black (Liberty County in Blountstown, FL) is a Rivals two-star player with offers from Marshall and Buffalo while fellow tackle Noah Shattuck (Alabama’s Enterprise HS) is a 247 Sports two-star player and was ranked the No. 262 offensive tackle in the country and had an offer from Virginia. Other highlights include: defensive back Kenyon Garlington (Brentwood) – brother of Weldon who played at TSU more recently – led Brentwood to a 14-0 record and a Tennessee Division II Class AAA State Title; Major Bellamy played two seasons at Georgia Military College where he had 87 receptions for 1,092 yards and seven touchdowns; wide receiver Vincent Perry from Iowa Western CC, who originally signed with Tennessee and had 68 catches for 836 yards and seven touchdowns at Hillsboro in Nashville where he was three-star Rivals, 247 and ESPN; and linebacker Jahsun Bryant from Cane Ridge who was rated two stars by 247 and Rivals and was first team 6A All-State. As TSU typically does, they signed a couple of mid-year FBS transfers including quarterback Demry Croft from Minnesota who started six games and will most likely have to compete with Michael Hughes who started the last five games last year. Former Florida transfer Treon Harris, who played in just seven games at quarterback for the Tigers last year, could be moved to receiver. Also signing was Mekhi Brown from University of Alabama, who was part of the national championship team.
This is head coach Mike London’s first full class after taking over the Bison program late last year and leading them to a surprising 7-4 overall record, 6-2 in MEAC play which was good for a second place finish. The jewel of this class was defensive tackle Jayde Pierre who is a three-star recruit who played at Dominion in Sterling, VA and had offers from FBS programs UVA, Maryland and Rutgers to name a few. BOXTOROW Rookie of the Year Caitlyn Newton had a spectacular 2017 season and the Bison added a couple of receivers to add to the sophomore combination of Jequez Ezzard and Kyle Anthony who combined for 74 receptions for over 1,600 yards and 11 touchdowns. A’Jae Boyd is from Pittsburgh High School in California and is a 247 Sports three-star recruit who had offers from Hawai’i, San Jose State and New Mexico. Tayshaun Porter from Warwick in Newport News is a two-star Rivals recruit with offers from Iowa State and FAU. London recruited his old stomping grounds of Virginia well where seven of the 20 players are from and balanced the class out nicely with 10 of the players from different states.
T-2 Prairie View A&M
New head coach Eric Dooley really hit a homerun in his first recruiting class, having taken his new position on December 22, 2017. The class is very impressive, not only in size – 28 signees – but also in talent. The Panthers landed a pair of defensive end teammates from New Orleans’ Landry Walker High School in Josh Smith and Shamod Sullivan. Smith was first team All-State and had 13 scholarship offers including from Kansas, Missouri, Houston and Oregon State to name a few. Sullivan received multiple offers as well including from Iowa State. Both helped their team to the 2016 5A Louisiana State championship. The Panthers focused on defense signing 18 including 247 Sports two-star cornerback Logan Jackson (Mesquite), who had multiple offers including from Grambling; two-star teammates, defensive end Kyren Harris and defensive tackle Jason Dumas both from St. James in Louisiana; and two-star defensive tackle Kobe Love from Jackson Mississippi’s Callaway. Offensively, the Panthers signed 6-4, 230-pound wide receiver Tristian Wallace, who played last year at Trinity Valley Community College, where he caught 29 passes for 474 yards, averaging 16.3 yards per receptions and eight touchdowns. Wallace was a four-star athlete in high school where he played quarterback and originally was a member of Oregon’s 2016 team.
Another impressive class for head coach Terry Sims and his staff as the Wildcats rebounded from a tough 2016 season to finish 7-4, 6-2 in the MEAC and was five points away from possibly tying North Carolina A&T for first place in the MEAC and eight points from an undefeated season in the MEAC. The Wildcats had quite a few needs, losing at least nine key players total on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Devin Black is listed as a three-star quarterback by 247sportsand chose BCU over Louisville, Iowa, USF, Florida Atlantic, Indiana and Tulane. As a senior at Armwood High School in Seffner, FL, he led it to a state 5-A runner-up finish and a 14-1 overall record. He threw for 2,265 yards and 25 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Some other notable signees include: University of Pittsburgh transfer cornerback Henry Miller who played in three games last year for the Panthers; wide receiver Bryan Jefferson who is transferring in from Boise State after one year where he saw limited time; cornerback Victor Harvey a Rivals two-star safety from South Broward; defensive back Tydarius Peters, who played at Mississippi Gulf Coast College and recorded 45 tackles in nine games; defensive lineman Desmend Pete from Blanche Ely, a two-star recruit by Rivals; cornerback Terrell Ware from Jones High School in Orlando, listed as a two-star Rivals recruit who had offers from FIU, FAU and South Alabama; and wide receiver Tyrese Spain, of Hillsborough High School in Tampa, a two-star cornerback that also received offers from Missouri, FAU, Kentucky, Troy, and Marshall.
Broderick Fobbs and the two-time defending Tigers don’t typically have large classes and that was again the case this time around, but it’s always the quality of the players it adds. The big time signing of this class is three-star athlete Maurice Robinson from Murphy in Mobile, Ala. Robinson was ranked the 19th best high school player in the state and received offers from 10 FBS schools including Alabama, LSU, and Memphis. He’s expected to play defensive back at Grambling where he believes he can get to the next level and could have an immediate impact. He played quarterback at Murphy where he amassed 1,686 yards passing and 18 touchdowns. On defense linebacker Cecil Cherry played last year at Coahoma Community College where he had an impact. Cherry is a former four-star recruit who played at Victory Christian Academy in Lakeland, Fla, where he originally committed to Texas before transferring to USF where he played on the 2016 team that went 10-2.
6. Alcorn State
The Braves have won the SWAC Eastern Division the last four years, but the last two years have not been able to win the SWAC championship game. The defense has not been as strong as it had previously been. Fred McNair and his staff added a big time linebacker in Jaaron Jackson a three-star recruit from Kathleen High School in Lakeland, Fla. He also received offers from South Alabama, Southern Miss, Marshall, Georgia State and Troy. The Braves also have a void to fill at running back and add a big back in Trey Turner, a 6-0, 204 two-star recruit from Escambia Academy in Alabama. With the graduation of Lenorris Footman, the Braves did sign a quarterback Jyron Russell from Timberview in Grand Prairie View, Texas, who is a good athlete and has a big arm.
7. North Carolina A&T
Even with the transition of Rod Broadway retiring as head coach of the Aggies and Sam Washington being elevated from defensive coordinator to head coach, the Aggies were able to keep all of its recruits. And while there are 15 in the class, all 15 fill needs. Two of the biggest signings include two-star running back Zareik Rush who played right up the road at famed Dudley High School. The Aggies have him listed as an outside linebacker and at 6-2, 205 and athletic, should be able to make the conversion. He originally committed to Howard. Athlete Israel Spivey is a three-star recruit who committed to Coastal Carolina, but chose A&T. The Aggies will look a little different in 2018 without the services of Khris Garden for the first time in three years and Spivey could eventually fill that void.
8. Florida A&M
A strong recruiting class for first-year head coach Willie Simmons who traded one A&M for another after serving the last three years as Prairie View A&M head coach. Simmons did a good job retaining players that had already committed to the program and going out and signing some of his own. The Rattlers signed 25 players and did leave the talent-rich state of Florida a bit, although 12 of their signees were from the Sunshine State. Five of the players were from the neighboring state of Georgia. Some highlights from the class include: quarterback Le’John Howard from McDonough in New Orleans who was a two-star Rivals dual threat quarterback and received an offer from SMU; running backDavonne “Bo” Kendrick from Miami Northwestern. received an offer to play at UCF; running back Derrick Staten, Jr.from Madison County High School; running back Eddie Tillman, III from McDonough 35 New Orleans, a 247 Sports two-star player with an offer from Oregon State; defensive end Abu Bangura Stockbridge High School (GA), who was offered by Georgia Southern; and two star linebacker Kyle Jackson of St. Augustine (La.).
Head coach Dawson Odums and his staff signed 17 to National Letters of Intent. Of those 17, 11 are from Louisiana. Three of his signees were offensive lineman, led by Larry Dixon 6-4, 330 from Hahnville in Boutte, LA. Dixon is a 247 Sports three-star recruit and was first team All-State. He chose Southern over offers from Mississippi State and Houston. With the graduation of four-year starter Austin Howard, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in SWAC history, the Jaguars signed former Pine Bluff (Ark.) High School Ladarius Skelton. Skelton played 2017 at Fullerton College where he completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,048 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions and also rushed for 1,165 yards and 18 touchdowns. Skelton originally signed with Southern out of high school where in a three-year career finished with 3,751 rushing yards and 47 touchdowns. He threw for 4,451 yards and 57 touchdowns.
In his first recruiting class as head coach of the Pirates, Robert Prunty was able to recruiting 16 players to Hampton, five from the Tidewater area. Highlights from the class include: linebacker DeAndre Faulk from Lakeland High School in Suffolk, VA who earned first team All-Region and All-State as a senior and received an offer from Marshall; running back Darran Butts from Kings Fork High School in Suffolk, VA who led South Hampton Roads in rushing in the regular season and was named first team All-State. Butts originally committed to Norfolk State and has 4.4 speed; defensive end Devin Marcano who has great size at 6-5½, 255 and prepped at South County High School in Lorton, Va. where he was second team All-State and had offers from ODU and Kent State; defensive lineman Bryson Glenn from Glenn High School in Kernersville, N.C.; and a big offensive lineman in Quinton Ragland (6-6½, 325 who prepped at Fork Union Military Academy.