PEMBROKE — With the biggest recruiting class in program history, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team welcomed 32 new players on Wednesday for National Signing Day.
Fifth-year coach Shane Richardson said that with the large size of the class, the group doesn’t lack quality.
“One of the things we always talk about is we are not going to turn away good players,” Richardson said. “If we find good players that are going to be great fits for us, we are going to go after them and be aggressive and try to bring them in and get them. It just so happens it was 30 high school guys this year. With the level of talent and quality of depth we did not stretch.
“It’s one of the most talented groups that we’ve had at a lot of positions. It’s a high-level group at multiple positions so that’s really exciting.”
The class is one person larger than 2009 when the program signed 31 players.
UNCP signed 30 high school seniors and two junior college transfers on Wednesday, with a big emphasis being placed on the trenches. Nearly half of the class is made up of offensive and defensive linemen, broken down to nine offensive lineman and six on defense.
“That brings a lot of quality depth right there. At those two positions, you can never have enough good big bodies and I like that part about it,” Richardson said.
Of that offensive group, Richardson said that Wake Forest’s Josh King, Hough’s Jonnie Varga and Seventy-First’s Reuben Willis have a chance to come in this summer and challenge the returners from last year. Also signed was Richmond’s Chase Coulthard, Colin Abney, Eric Heins, Jack Britt’s Preston Wise, junior college transfer Tyler Harris and William Cross Jr.
Due to injuries late in the year, UNCP was forced to lean on five freshman to start on the offensive line and adding depth was one mission for the Braves’ coaching staff on the recruiting trail.
“Obviously, last year we were very thin and very young and didn’t have the quality of depth we wanted. I think this year having more bodies to compete and to push each other, you improve the crop,” Richardson said. “I think that position will become more healthy and mature as we go along.”
UNCP’s defensive line lost two starters from a year ago, but have a senior heavy unit this upcoming season. Signing with the Braves to help the future was Independence’s Kaleb Baker, Gray’s Creek’s Devin Cowan, Southeast Raleigh’s Godwin Igbokwe, Hopewell’s Tyreke King, Overhills’ Isaiah Robinson and Millbrook’s Branden Spencer.
Richardson said that UNCP was able to secure its top-two rated quarterbacks, running backs and linebackers as well.
“The two guys we were going after, we got them at all three of those positions. It really came together at what you wanted for a player and what you did to evaluate them,” he said. “They were really good players that ended up being good fits for us and we were able to get them.”
Hoggard quarterback Josh Jones tossed for over 2,800 yards and 43 touchdowns in leading the Vikings to the NCHSAA 4A East regional title game against Scotland, and helped lead a second-half comeback that forced overtime in that matchup. Also signed at quarterback was Rock Hill’s Logan McFadden.
“We’ve got three guys already on the roster and adding two scholarship guys really puts us in a great place,” Richardson said.
The pair of running backs that signed, South Mecklenburg’s DeAngelo Blair-Young and Monroe’s McKinley Nelson, have the chance to get some time once they get on campus, according to Richardson.
“I think they can come in and have a chance to play right away,” he said. “We will see what they do to get themselves ready for that opportunity. They definitely have the talent to do what it takes.”
Blair-Young accounted for more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and 22 tackles as a senior and Nelson rushed for 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns this year.
Along with getting its top two prospects at linebacker, the Braves signed six total with the class, including one junior college transfer.
David Salser transfers from Pearl River Community College in Mississippi, and joins a trio of Mallard Creek linebackers in Masanka Kanku, Cam Lowery and Keeshon Martin. The Braves also picked up Mount Tabor’s Jack U’Ren and C.J. Foxx from Northern Guilford.
“Those guys, coming from Mallard Creek, come from a winning program and I like that,” Richardson said. “They love football and are used to success and that adds a lot of value. Cam Lowery and Keeshon Martin were our two highest rated linebackers. I think those guys will have a chance to contribute early in their career.”
Salser and Harris are already on campus and going through spring workouts to prepare for spring practice this semester, and with prior college experience, Richardson sees the duo being a lift for the Braves.
UNCP stayed local to pick up six players from schools that are in the region in Scotland wide receiver Trey Dixon, Robinson, Wise, Willis, Cowand and Coulthard from Richmond, Cumberland and Harnett County schools.
With the NC Promise tuition package coming into effect this fall, UNCP was able to be more aggressive with out-of-state recruits that can take advantage of the discounted tuition for non-NC residents. Abney from Georgia, along with McFadden, Heins and Jayce Allen from South Carolina and the two junior college transfers from Mississippi were the signees from out of state.
“It really helps us to go out of state and broaden our talent pool to take a look at some other guys we wouldn’t have been able to get before,” Richardson said. “We were able to do that and find some really good ones.”
Along with Dixon, the Braves also picked up Mallard Creek’s Teddy Creecy at wide receiver and a trio of tight ends, that includes Faheem Diaab from Vance, Monroe’s Justin Crowder and Thatcher Tillett from Manteo. John Jones Jr. out of White Oak was signed as a defensive back, along with Allen.
The Braves return 16 starters, eight on both sides of the ball, off its 2017 squad.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.