Shinnick and the Braves welcomed 22 newcomers, a group that’s heavy on defense highlighted by a a decorated, All-State performer and a strong linebacking core hoping to fill the void in the middle left by the departures of Adam Deese and J.T. McCoy.
“Top to bottom, this is the most athletic class we’ve signed,” Shinnick said. “It’s a very good class that our staff worked very hard to get. It’s the best group of defensive players we’ve had.”
Richmond’s L.J. Stroman, a 2010 Shrine Bowler and Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, is a talented two-way player that received a number of ACC looks during his standout senior season for Paul Hoggard’s Raiders. Stroman accumulated 80 tackles and six interceptions on defense and scored three touchdowns in the return game. In the slot, Stroman caught eight passes for 205 yards and reached the end zone five times.
Stroman runs a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash and is expected to play defensive back at UNCP. He also starred on Richmond’s track team. Stroman is a 4AA All-State honoree and was a member of the Raiders’ 2008 state championship team.
Stroman was at the top of UNCP’s radar and adding speed and athleticism is always a top recruiting priority according to Shinnick.
“He’s up there with the top high school guys to ever come play for us,” Shinnick said Wednesday afternoon. “Stroman and the other defensive backs we signed will have an excellent chance to play early since we did lose some guys from last season.”
Joining Stroman is Richmond teammate John Rich. Rich, 6-foot-3 wide receiver with good hands, fills the Braves’ need for a big-play threat on the outside. Southern Lee’s Ashton Gaines is another wideout with similar size and skill set. In all, UNCP inked eight players on offense, 13 on defense and a kicker, Richlands’ Matt Davis.
Two signees, transfers Sean Rush and T.J. Johnson are already enrolled at UNCP and could have an immediate impact next fall. Rush is a 6-foot-1, 205-pound defensive back from Florida A&M, while Johnson is a 6-foot-1 wideout from Garden City CC. Both will participate in spring practice when the Braves take the field on March 16.
The Braves also landed Fuquay-Varina running back Cory Hunter. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound wrecking ball rushed for 5,900 yards and 91 touchdowns over his last three prep seasons. Hunter is a two-time Tri-Nine Conference Player of the Year. His career rushing totals rank 10th in North Carolina history.
According to Shinnick, UNCP received letters of intent from most of its primary targets despite finishing last season 5-5 and ending the year on a three-game losing streak. The Braves finished with nine wins in 2008 and 2009, including their first trip to the postseason. Since bringing football back to Pembroke in 2005, the Braves have compiled a 27-15 record.
“Our record on the field didn’t affect this class,” Shinnick said. “The players we wanted to bring in know our body of work over the last three years. Everyone knows the success we have had. I don’t think last season had any impact on signing day.”
At all levels of college football, there’s always a few casualties on Feb. 2 and players that go elsewhere for varying reasons.
“Every year you lose some guys you wish you would’ve gotten,” Shinnick said. “Some guys went to bigger schools and that’s part of the process. We lost a couple guys to FBS teams on Sunday. That’s how it happens. We’re still pretty happy with the class we got.”
The Black and Gold spring game is scheduled for April 12.