The Gamecocks have signed players with the highly subjective star designations from the major recruiting services before, but the haul they reeled in Wednesday would rival, and maybe even exceed, some mid-major FBS programs.
In their first recruiting effort for JSU, one put on a fast track by the staff’s late arrival, new coach Bill Clark and his assistants signed five 2- and 3-star prospects in the 21-player class he announced on National Signing Day.
The class included at least one player at each position except quarterback and kicker — and the kicker may come next week — with the star power coming at linebacker, tight end, wide receiver, safety and offensive lineman.
Even Clark admitted he was “amazed” at the quality they attracted given the short window of time, but he didn’t think any were out of the Gamecocks’ league.
“I think there is a lot of research that goes into these stars,” Clark said. “But just from our evaluations, we did not say, ‘Well, we’re Jax State and somebody’s this, we can’t get this guy.’ We just said this is a guy who’s out there, he has not made a decision that we felt was something we could not get on, so we went after him.
“That’s kind of been our question: How did you get this guy? If you get over here and see our campus, see our people, we feel like we can compete with anybody. We really believe that. That came through to the kids.”
Ramar Dennis, a two-star linebacker from Orlando, Fla., is probably the poster child for that approach.
He had nearly a dozen offers from FBS schools the likes of Syracuse, Cincinnati, Illinois, Southern Miss and Orange Bowl-participant Northern Illinois. As he delayed making a choice, other schools secured commitments at his position and he fell down or off their lists. The schools that still wanted him on their roster pitched him playing another position.
The Gamecocks stayed on him and once they joined the fray, he stuck with them.
“I was solid,” Dennis said Wednesday. “There are a lot of colleges that tell you they want you — they use that word very loosely — but (JSU) actually meant they wanted me. They sent everybody to me. One coach (Daric Riley) even flew in to be with us and flew out the same day.
“I told them several times I don’t know how you’re going to win me over you’re so new to the party, I spoke to other colleges in the past beyond you guys, I don’t know how you’re going to pull it off, but in the end they did.”
Jarren Johnson, a three-star receiver and one of three JSU signees from 4A state champion Jackson, was rated the 15th prospect in the state by one service and 27th by another. He was the MVP of the 4A title game.
“It’s kind of amazing to me that this guy had not committed so we just went full bore,” Clark said. “To get that guy in here and address that need with a guy who we know what he can do …. that was a big pick up.”
Anthony Johnson is a 6-5, 220-pound three-star tight end from Maplesville who started on both sides of the ball in all 51 games of his career and the only 1A player on Alabama roster in the Alabama-Mississippi Game.
Siran Neal, a two-star safety from Eufaula, was an early UAB commitment. He was all-state at two different high schools the last two years. He could be a receiver, but the Gamecocks will start him off to fill more pressing needs on defense.
Brett Steverson, a three-star offensive lineman from Fitzgerald, Ga., was an early commit to Duke and also had offers from Colorado State and Troy.
“It’s exciting to get some bigger names,” Clark said, “but overall even guys who aren’t maybe the higher stars, we’ve got really a good group.”
There are others in the class who might not have a star designation but strengthen the class. Among them are Tallahassee, Fla., receiver Earl Calloway — a one-time elementary school classmate of Dennis’ — McAdory defensive back Darius Jackson and any of five offensive linemen.
In all, the Gamecocks signed six receivers, four defensive linemen, four defensive backs, five offensive linemen, two tight ends, a running back and a linebacker. Geographically, they signed 16 from Alabama, three from Georgia and two from Florida, who happened to be the first faxes returned Wednesday.
About the only targets they lost were Jonesboro, Ga., linebacker Nate Norwood (Appalachian State), Austin defensive back Greg Willard (Murray State) — two early commitments to the former staff — and St. Pauls offensive lineman Case Hillier.
“We didn’t really have many misses I don’t think as far as guys we look back and say, ‘Boy, I wish we could’ve got this guy,” Clark said. “There’s always a few of those guys, because you really get to know these kids and love them, but this to me is just a super quality group.”
Clark’s hope now is all of them get qualified. He said “two or three” still have some work to do, including junior college receiver Rodney Davis who hasn’t played since helping East Mississippi CC win the 2011 JUCO national championship, but he said their coaches have expressed confidence it would happen.
The signing class also included two Calhoun County players — Piedmont offensive lineman Austin Bishop and Alexandria athlete Justice Owens. Oxford wide receiver Jarrius Orr said he has committed to JSU, but will be walking on.
Clark said it was important to pursue and sign local players and he would continue to do so if they fit the needs of the program.