By Donal Ware
Special to the College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA — For the sixth time in seven years FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW has ranked the top 10 HBCU FCS recruiting classes.
The rankings are based on the talent that was brought in and research that we did based upon school releases, local newspaper articles and recruiting boards. This is not an exact science, but an opinion.
FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW is the sports talk show which places a major emphasis on HBCU Sports. The show airs each Friday from 1-2 p.m. ET on SiriusXM Channel 141 as well as on radio stations around the country.
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1. Tennessee State had a strong recruiting class and three signings stood out immediately. Coach Rod Reed and his staff signed a big time wide receiver in Willie Allen from Chicago’s Hales Franciscan.
Allen was rated a three-star recruit by Scout.com and ranked the 135th wideout in the country. Couple that with the signing of wide receiver Lavatiae Kelly from Hollywood, Florida’s McArthur, and quarterback Michael German, who was the OVC Freshman of the Year, could have two big time receivers to throw the ball to, especially with the loss of Calvin McNairl.
Speaking of quarterback, the Tigers signed Tallahassee Lincoln’s Ronald Butler, a two-star recruit ranked as the 89th best quarterback in the country.
Butler turned down UNLV and Southern Miss to sign with the Tigers. The signing will help push German to have an even better sophomore campaign.
With the graduation of Rico Council and John Jones, Tennessee State placed an emphasis on linebackers and recruited three that could play right away in Maurice Box (Gallatin), Jarvis Mott from Daytona Beach’s Mainland, as well as two-star recruit Antonio Justice (St. Jude in Montgomery, AL).
The Tigers also received a pair of Rival two-star offensive linemen in Kilu Fontaine (Tampa Bay Tech) and Ellsworth Community College transfer Demetrius Rhaney.
2. Each year since we have been ranking the classes, Coach Buddy Pough and South Carolina State have always had a top five class. This year is no different.
While in year’s past, the class has been made up of heralded two and three star players, this year’s class is a bit more toned down.
However, the Bulldogs, who have always had big time offensive lineman, signed another one when Rivals four-star recruit Javarius Leamon signed with the Bulldogs after receiving offers from Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina, and Tennessee to name a few.
As usual the Bulldogs did an outstanding job of recruiting in-state as 16 of their 23 commitments hail from the Palmetto state.
With quarterback Derrick Wiley going down midway through last season and coming up on his senior season, SCSU certainly recruited for the future when they signed Joey Copeland (Gaffney) and Adrian Kollock (Spartanburg).
The last Gaffney quarterback to sign at South Carolina State was prolific passer Malcolm Long and Copeland put up some big numbers his senior season, his only year as a starting quarterback (completed 269 passes for 4,156 yards and 44 touchdowns and added 154 carries for 603 yards and 26 touchdowns).
Kollock’s numbers were not shabby either (4,400 total yards and 32 touchdowns passing). SCSU also gets a highly regarded fullback in Virgil Smalls (Goose Creek). Smalls had 40 touchdowns in leading to a state title and was one of three Shrine Bowl players recruited by State.
The defensive back field has also been a talented position in the past for the Bulldogs (current NFLers Rafael Bush and Phillip Adams) and the Bulldogs signed two-star recruit MarQuise Jones, who also received offers from Duke and Vanderbilt.
3. With the bulk of an 8-3 team returning who just missed playing in the SWAC Championship Game, Alabama State and Coach Reggie Barlow‘s focus was to beef up the interior line.
With that the Hornets found three defensive linemen who could be ready to play right away and have great size in Duncanville, TX’s Jamaal Fears (6-2, 300), Jonesboro, GA’s Garrius Hudson (6-1, 325) and Bobby Wintons (6-2, 325) from Porter House Christian Academy in Jacksonville, FL.
While the three weren’t highly touted their size could help fill an immediate need. With the graduation of all-time leading receiver Nick Andrews the Hornets signed who Barlow thinks could be the next Andrews in Jarrett Neely.
Neely is a transfer from Georgia Military Academy and was rated three stars by Scout.com and two stars by Rivals. The Hornets also signed Miles Everett.
While not highly touted he led all Georgia high school players in receiving yards with 1,163 (60 receptions, 14 TDs, 19.5 yards per reception).
ASU also signed two-star athlete Carnell Boyd (Atlanta’s Martin Luther King), two-star athlete Giles Chapman who (received numerous FBS offers including Stanford, SMU, Illinois), and free safety/cornerback Melvin Davis a two-star by Rivals, three-star by ESPN, who received offers from Arizona State and Tulane.
Davis could have an immediate impact at strong safety with Boxtorow All-American Kejuan Riley having the free safety position solidified.
4. Florida A&M Coach Joe Taylor’s staff makes an effort to visit every high school in the State of Florida every year and if the don’t visit every one of the 540-plus schools they come close. It shows as of the 26 signees, 23 were in-state.
Something else that jumped out about the class is that all of the signees were high school players. In year’s past the Rattler program has signed quite a few JUCOs and FBS players. The offensive line has always been one of Taylor’s focus so it’s no surprise FAMU signed three Rivals two-star linemen in Ignacio Escandon (Miami’s Hialeah), Jamal Gay (Tallahassee’s Florida) and Ivan Rios (Orlando’s East River).
Two-star WR/DB Neal Cunningham (Pompano) committed early and graduated in December and is enrolled in classes, meaning he will participate in spring drills and could have an immediate impact. Also interestingly enough Akil Blount (Pennsylvania’s Linsly), the son of pro football Hall of Famer and former South Carolina State standout Mel Blount, signed with the Rattlers.
5. In his first season as head football coach in 2010, Bethune-Cookman Coach Brian Jenkins had the fourth-best recruiting class and had about a month to sign that class.
Two years later that Wildcats are still in our top five. The prize of this class is wide receiver Ray Martin (Sanford Seminole), a three-star recruit who also received offers from North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Wake Forest, Temple, and Indiana amongst others and decided to stay close to home.
Martin could have an immediate impact for the Wildcats. Another player who could have an immediate impact is Tevin Gordon (DeLand).
At 6-3, Gordon is a big safety and turned down offers from Eastern Michigan and Colorado State. Size was an emphasis in recruiting in the defensive backfield as all four of the Wildcats defensive backs signings was six-feet or taller.
The Wildcats also beefed up on the offensive line with five of their 15 total recruits being from that position, including two-star recruits Trevin Huff and Mike Jones.
The class is strong because less emphasis is placed on FBS transfers but the class was solidified with four of them including DL Brandon Bryant, DB Tyrone Bouie (Minnesota), DB Derek Carter (Central Michigan), and WR Brodrick Waters (Louisiana Tech.).
6. The defending MEAC champion Norfolk State Spartans are back in our top 10 after a year hiatus. Coach Pete Adrian and his staff brought in 15 players this year.
The last time the Spartans brought in a quarterback from junior college Chris Walley and last year Walley was named the MEAC’s co-Offensive Player of the Year.
This year, they bring in Jake Basmagian a transfer from LA Pierce College. At 6-4, 210, he is similar in size to Walley. Basmagian passed for 1,369 yards and nine touchdowns as a true freshman. With the loss of All-MEAC performer Josh Turner, the signing of Washington DC’s Ballou defensive tackle Lamonte Clark fills an immediate void.
Clark originally signed with Kansas State and is enrolled at NSU now and will participate in spring drills. The Spartans also add a three-star running back in R.J. Robinson, a transfer from Georgia Military College.
Robinson is a big back and is the perfect compliment to Takeem Hedgeman. The Spartans also get two star offensive lineman Michael Phillips(Virginia Beach Bayside) and two star tight end Alexander Robinson (Maryland’s Bowie).
7. When Hampton quarterback David Legree went down with injury last year, the Pirates scrambled to find a backup. Travis Champion and Brad Hudson did an adequate job as the Pirates finished 3-1 in their last four ball games.
This year is a different story for Coach Donovan Rose as the Pirates don’t have an incumbent. Two quarterbacks highlight the Pirates recruiting class in J.J. Williamson and Najee Tyler.
Williamson (Oscar Smith) was the All-Tidewater Player of the Year after throwing for 3,062 yards and 39 touchdowns to lead Oscar Smith to the Group AAA Division 6 state championship.
Tyler (6-5, 235), who originally signed with Purdue may have more of an advantage having played at Coffeyville Community College where he was all-conference. and being able to participate in spring drills.
The Pirates also landed a couple of two-star recruits in DB Lorenzo Fields (Richmond’s Thomas Dale), and OL Marcus Haynes (I.C. Norcom). Of the Pirates 15 recruits, four were transfers including defensive back Carvin Johnson who started as a true freshman at Michigan.
8. The defending SWAC Champion Grambling State Tigers placed an emphasis on the offensive and defensive line. But Coach Doug Williams, in his second stint as the Tigers coach, had to feel like he could use a big play receiver with the loss of Boxtorow All-American Mario Louis and he got one.
Tray Rabon from Dallas Skyline was rated a three-star recruit by Rivals and was offered by Arkansas State, Indiana, New Mexico State, and UTEP amongst others. The Tigers’ staff signed seven offensive linemen led by Trevion Goins (Monroe’s Richwood) and Ruston’s 6-3, 301-pound Justin Miller.
Of the seven defensive linemen signed Cen’terio Ford from Marion’s Farmville was a Scout.com two-star recruit. The Tigers stayed in the Gulf Coast as 19 of their 21 signees were from that area.
9. It is rare that when a school only signs six to its class they rank in our top 10. But when you receive signed NLI’s from four of the five players you made offers to, and one of your players is a three-star quarterback, coupled with the fact that you lose just 10 players and return 17 starters as one of the best teams in the country, we make an exception.
Jackson State Coach Rick Comegy will try to replace Boxtorow National Offensive Player of the Year quarterback Casey Therriault with Lamontiez Ivy, who had offers from Illinois and Kansas.
Ivy threw 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions as a senior and was ranked the No. 23 dual-threat quarterback in the nation. TE Jabari Payton should help fill the void left by Boxtorow All-American Renty Rollins.
10. In his second year as head coach of North Carolina Central, Henry Frazier addressed a good majority of his needs. He had to go outside of North Carolina to do so as of the 27 signees, only four were from the state.
Six of his NC commitments decided to play elsewhere. Two of his offensive linemen were Rivals two-star recruits from Florida in Clevonne Davis of Miramar and Decarreus Mason Boynton Beach.
The Eagles lost nine offensive linemen from last year, but signed a total of nine. With quarterback Michael Johnson lost to graduation, the incumbent Jordan Reid will be pushed by two signees, Matt Goggans a transfer from Fullerton College and Malcolm Bell from Henrico in Richmond, VA who led the region with over 3,300 yards of total offense while accounting for 34 touchdowns (28 passing). Bell was rated the No. 43 dual-threat quarterback in the nation.