JACKSONVILLE — In any other year, John Grass’ take on his latest Jacksonville State football recruiting class would pass as passover coach-speak between quotes.
“It’s a really solid class, when you look at it, from top to bottom,” the fifth-year head coach said. “The number-one thing we always look for is good people.
“We’ve got some really good people to add to our program, and they’re really good players.”
The comment stands out more this year, in light of protest surrounding JSU taking transfer tight end and early enrollee Landon Rice.
The former four-star recruit who first signed with Auburn and detoured through Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College was one of three early enrollees on JSU’s signee list Wednesday. He’s one of 21 signees listed over all.
The list includes former Clemson quarterback Zerrick Cooper, who’d be the headliner in most years. He’ll come in and battle Bryant Horn, Kendrick Doss and Zion Webb for the starting job.
In a normal year, buzz would surround three-star recruits like wide receiver Ahmad Edwards, offensive lineman Cameron Hill. Talk would center on the additions of six defensive backs.
Local signees like defensive back Marshall Clark and his former Munford teammate, Oxford defensive end Tacorrie Russell, another three-star prospect, would factor big on signing-day talk most years.
This is no normal signing cycle. It came with December’s inaugural early signing period for college football, and it came with an elephant in the room for JSU.
Wednesday’s signing-day news conference marked Grass’ first meeting with reporters since Rice enrolled. Auburn’s Title IX probe found Rice “responsible” for a sexual assault.
Reaction to Rice’s joining JSU’s football program prompted JSU athletics director Greg Seitz to release a Jan. 15 statement, saying JSU “conducted a very thorough investigation surrounding all of the facts on Landon Rice, just like we do on any of our recruits.”
“After speaking with several officials from Auburn University and getting all of the facts surrounding the investigation, and after meeting with Landon, we decided to allow Landon to enroll at JSU and join our football program.”
Seitz attached an Auburn memorandum of final disposition, issued by Kelley Taylor, director AA/EEO and Title IX coordinator, on Nov. 7, 2017, saying sanctions levied against Rice as a result of Auburn’s Title IX investigation had been lifted.
“This memorandum is to confirm that, effective September 26, 2017, all sanctions imposed upon Landon Jerry Rice as a result of (the Title IX probe) expired and, as of that date, he was returned to the status of ‘good standing’ at Auburn University.”
The memorandum declared the matter “concluded.” Rice has not been charged with a crime.
When asked, Grass didn’t wade into the specifics of Rice’s case at Auburn. However, Grass gave Rice a full-throated endorsement.
“I’d let him take my daughter to Dairy Queen any time he wanted to for a Blizzard, and she’s 12,” Grass said. “That’s how solid I feel about him.”
Asked his evaluation of Rice, Grass called him a “great person.”
Overall, Grass touted “a really good signing class.”
Running back Austin Kinsey, from Clarke County, was first-team All-State and a finalist for Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 3A back of the year. Douglasville (Ga.) running back Uriah West was a first-team All-State pick that drew FBS offers from Ball State, Bowling Green State, Marshall, Toledo and Troy.
JSU’s signing of six defensive backs comes after the Gamecocks lost senior cornerbacks Siran Neal and Reggie Hall.
“We need a little depth, defensive back wise,” Grass said. “We needed some competition at that position, and some of the other guys like (All-American safety) Marlon Bridges are getting up there where they have a year or two left to play.
“This is two years in a row where we’ve signed a solid DB class, and you’ve got to have a lot of DBs. That’s our philosophy where, if we’re going to be over anywhere, it’s going to be at DB. From starters to backups to third-team guys are always good special-teams players.”
As of Wednesday’s news conference, JSU had not yet received Russell’s paperwork. NCAA rules constrained Grass from commenting on yet-unsigned recruits.
Grass called Clark “a good local kid, great family. We’re very, very excited about him and adding their family to ours, and I think we’re getting a steal there.”