2017 National Signing Day Dukes Roundup
As long-time readers know, this is one of our favorite posts of the year. It’s also one of our best. And that’s entirely because Rob and I have nothing to do with it. As always, we’re turning this over to our friend, contributor, and recruiting guru Michael Evangelista (@Michael_2Clutch) for some actual analysis of what may be the FCS nation’s best, and one of JMU’s all-time best, recruiting classes. Take it away Mike!
“I have decided to further my athletic and academic career at… James Madison University! #GoDukes #NewBreed”
Does this look familiar? If so, it’s because you’ve seen that exact statement all over the Twitter-sphere throughout the year. It’s stunning how 140 characters have changed the landscape of college football recruiting for not just the players and coaches, but also for die-hard fans like you and I.
After winning the national championship at Frisco (Shout out to the 12,000+ Dukes who were there!), the last month has been a wild one for Mike Houston and his staff. There was no time off and the coaches has been traveling all over the east coast – from New Jersey to Georgia – solidifying commitments and finding new ones. This year’s recruiting class is full of very talented, heavily recruited athletes (will get back to this later) that demonstrated a tremendous amount of versatility. This year, JMU signed 25 football players. Many of these recruits not only dominated at their position, but also showed an ability to impact other aspects of the game, whether it was on offense, special teams, or defense.
While stars are often the indicator of how fans determine how highly regarded or talented a prospect is; it’s typically not the case especially at the FCS level where recruiting is a bit different. JMU will likely never land the five-star athlete with multiple SEC offers (at least, directly out of high school) but given JMU’s premier facilities, beautiful campus, access to recruiting hot beds and fan support, we have the ability to land elite players at our level. Think of the mid-major talents who are targeted by the Toledo’s, the Old Dominion’s, and the Boise State’s of the world – Those athletes have the choice to face obscurity, playing for the National Funding Holiday Bowl for example, or play for championships at a program with a rich winning tradition like JMU.
As we look at this year’s class, try not to look at the stars (which if you do, it’s quite impressive, because there are still a lot), but notice the number of rival universities, schools that provide similar offerings, and FBS programs that James Madison was able to beat out. If you look at this class from that point of view, this may be the best recruiting cl…SIKE, just kidding; I’m not going to dare say it.
Here are the 2017 recruits…
Gage Moloney – 6’2 215lbs
State: South Carolina
High School: Northwestern
Analysis: James Madison landed a top-notch recruit in South Carolina’s Mr. Football, Gage Moloney – not a typo, we actually landed South Carolina’s Mr. Football. Standing at 6’2 and 215 pounds, this southpaw fits Donnie Kirkpatrick’s RPO (run-pass-option) scheme perfectly with his large frame, speed (4.74 40) and impressive arm strength. Initially an Ohio commit, Moloney comes from the same program that produced P5 talents in Justin Worley and Mason Rudolph; he has had some big shoes to fill and certainly did not disappoint. Starting his junior year in Northwestern’s “Air Raid” scheme, Moloney threw for 42 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions and only improved moving forward. Similar to my assessment of quarterback DJ Daniels last year, while Moloney is a great athlete at quarterback, he is still more of a “thrower” than a “passer” at this time. I’d keep a close eye on his development, especially with his footwork on quick timing routes and fitting throws in tight windows. Moloney should develop into the ideal dual-threat quarterback and with Cole Johnson’s impressive true freshman year, the 2018 quarterback competition should be fierce.
CAA Comparison: John Robertson (Villanova Alumnus)
Offers: Appalachian State, Colorado State, East Carolina, Ohio, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Mercer, Miami (OH)
Running Back (2):
Marcus Marshall – 5’10 210lbs
State: North Carolina
Previous School: Georgia Tech
Analysis: In 2013, JMU landed Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee, and, as most would say, the rest was history. With the graduation of Khalid Abdullah, JMU went back to Atlanta and landed Georgia Tech’s leading rusher, Marcus Marshall. The former 3-star running back has purple and gold bloodlines, as his parents are both JMU alums. His father is Warren Marshall, JMU’s all-time leading rusher who was inducted into the JMU Hall of Fame in 2013. JMU is getting a powerful running back that also has breakaway speed. He has all the physical attributes to excel at JMU and should push for significant carries in the fall. While JMU’s offense shares aspects of Georgia Tech’s run-based triple option, Marshall’s ability to be patient with reading blocks will be vital to his on-the-field impact. He’s a downhill, one-cut-and-go back who runs behinds his pads, and I imagine Big John will have him even bigger and stronger come fall. With Cardon Johnson’s nagging achilles injury, JMU was wise in bringing in an older back that can contribute immediately. He will certainly be in the rotation with seniors Taylor Wood and Cardon Johnson in addition to junior Trai Sharp.
CAA Comparison: Terrence West (Towson Alumnus and current Baltimore Raven)
Offers: Army, Boston College, Connecticut, Elon, Furman, Holy Cross, Mercer, NC State, Old Dominion, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Western Carolina, William & Mary, Wofford
Percy Agyei-Obese – 5’11 192lbs
High School: Oakdale
Analysis: James Madison is reloading its backfield with the addition of Maryland running back Percy Agyei-Obese. A late bloomer to the game, Percy did not start playing football until high school but quickly showed that he had all the athletic tools to be an impact player. Growing up playing soccer, he was known for his physical nature, which translates well to the running back, and defensive end positions where he also starred. What also stood out to his high school coaches was his speed (4.47 40), which Percy says is “genetic”. He’s a raw athlete, but is a violent runner and draws comparisons to Khalid Abdullah. While Agyei-Obese’s ability to break away on long runs is impressive, you can see that his first objective is to run defenders over. With JMU’s veteran backfield, you can expect to see Percy redshirt his freshman year and learn behind Sharp, Johnson, Marshall and Woods.
CAA Comparison: Khalid Abdullah (JMU)
Offers: Charlotte, Monmouth, Morgan State, Towson, and Robert Morris
Wide Receiver (4):
Daniel Adu – 6’2 175lbs
High School: West Springfield
Analysis: Daniel Adu is a long, lanky wide receiver from Northern Virginia’s, West Springfield High School. An athlete in every sense of the word, he’s a bit of a late bloomer as well, but has a reputation of taking the “top” off defenses with his 4.4 speed (10.46 100M). Similar to Agyei-Obese, Adu did not pick up football until high school but certainly had the skillsets to excel; his better days on the gridiron are ahead of him. He reminds me of former Ticks receiver Reggie Diggs, who was under the radar out of Surry County, but turned into a dynamic playmaker given his size, length and speed. He fits in perfectly as an outside receiver for JMU’s offense, a la Brandon Ravenel and Domo Taylor, and has the big-play potential you like from a tall receiver. Like most high school wide receivers in the FCS, Adu will need to gain weight and muscle before he can begin contributing at this level. Expect him to redshirt and learn from a deep wide receiver unit.
Style: Outside, Balanced (X or Z)
CAA Comparison: Reggie Diggs (Richmond)
Offers: Liberty (track and field), St. Francis (PA)
Ezrah Archie – 6’1 185lbs
State: New Jersey
High School: Timber Creek Regional
Analysis: JMU swooped into the state of New Jersey to pick up a highly touted recruit in wide receiver Ezra Archie. A late addition to the class, Archie was a former University of Pennsylvania commit before choosing the good guys. He had a slew of offers from the Northeast, including opportunities to play in the Ivy League, but chose to pursue a more balanced college experience. Obviously a smart player, Archie adds good size to the outside, and his game is comparable to JMU receiver, Brandon Ravenel. He has good, but not great, speed and uses his polished route-running skills to beat defenders one-on-one. He displayed impressive hand-eye coordination as well. Similar to the running back position, JMU has veterans that should flourish next year at receiver, but Mike Houston is wise to continue bringing in talented athletes to develop. Archie should redshirt his freshman year to learn the offense.
Style: Outside, Possession (X or Z)
CAA Comparison: Brandon Ravenel (JMU)
Offers: Bryant, Lehigh, Citadel, Colgate, Stetson, University of Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Lafayette, Cornell, Elon
Kyndel Dean – 6’2 175lbs
State: North Carolina
High School: Parkland
Analysis: Beginning with Everett Withers and now with Mike Houston, JMU has been very successful at recruiting high-quality athletes from the state of North Carolina. It started two years ago with recruiting Trai Sharp, then continued with Adam Smith and Bryce Maginley last year. JMU continues the trend with the signing of wide receiver Kyndel Dean from Parkland High School. Dean may be one of the better athletes to join the program this year, and JMU had to hold off a number of FBS programs to keep him. He’s a tall, fast, physically imposing athlete who dominated the competition. An explosive player, his 4.47 speed stands out on tape, and he also shows good elusiveness that draws comparisons to current JMU receiver, Terrence Alls. While I’d like to see Dean redshirt his freshman year and mature, I would not be surprised if he contributes on special teams as a returner or gunner on the kickoff unit come fall.
Style: Outside, Speed (X or Z)
CAA Comparison: Terrence Alls (JMU)
Offers: Middle Tennessee State, Charlotte, East Tennessee State, Navy, Old Dominion, Campbell, Appalachian State
Josh Sims – 5’10 150lbs
High School: Eastside
Analysis: When North Carolina native Mike Houston first arrived at James Madison, there was an immediate expectation we would be targeting more Southern prospects, and with the addition of Kyndel Dean, Gage Moloney and now, Josh Sims, it’s certainly coming to fruition. Josh Sims is a wide receiver from Covington, Georgia and committed to JMU fairly early in the process. Don’t let his size and weight fool you; Sims is most definitely a playmaker, and his ability to separate from defenders should make you excited for the future of the program. His skillsets fit well in JMU’s offense where his quickness should make him a target on slant routes and bubble screens from the slot position. He may also line up in the backfield occasionally to take advantage of certain mismatches. His strength today is his elusiveness, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sims line up at punt returner in the near future. He should remind JMU fans of wide receiver (and defensive back) DeAndre Smith, who was a main contributor his true freshman year. Smith came to JMU undersized as well, but his overall speed and quickness was difficult to contain.
Style: Slot, Speed
CAA Comparison: DeAndre Smith (JMU Alumnus)
Offers: Kentucky Christian, Tennessee Tech
Tight End (1):
Clayton Cheatham – 6’3 220lbs
High School: Hanover
Analysis: The younger brother of former JMU tight end Deane Cheatham, Clayton will develop into a big target for either Gage Moloney or Cole Johnson. At 6’3, 220 pounds and ranked the twelfth best football prospect in the 804 by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he is much bigger than Dean was when he first came to campus, and his strength certainly jumps out on tape. An option quarterback at Hanover High School (which has become a farming ground for JMU football), Clayton will need to learn the ins and outs of the position, but has the frame, speed and mindset to succeed. Well-known in the region as a punishing ball carrier, Cheatham’s physical traits should translate well to tight end and give JMU a potent option near the goal line. Right now, JMU has All-CAA tight end in senior, Jonathan Kloosterman, and a number of unproven prospects like Nick Carlton, Mack Cullen, Zach Polglase and Lawton Riggs returning. While a long shot, Cheatham 2.0 could see playing time in the near future.
CAA Comparison: Jonathan Kloosterman (JMU)
Offers: Richmond, UVA (preferred walk-on), Army, Navy, Old Dominion, Towson
Offensive Line (2):
Jake Glavin – 6’2 300lbs
High School: Malvern
Analysis: One of the first commits back in July of 2016, Jake Glavin fits the mold of what Coach Houston is looking for on the offensive line. A wide-bodied, physical specimen, Glavin should fit perfectly in the interior, either at guard or center. The first thing you notice with Glavin is how violent he is off the line of scrimmage and his desire to finish blocks. Much like how the offensive line was coached this year, he fires off the ball and looks for pancakes in the run game. While big bruisers often get placed in the “less-mobile” bucket, Glavin does have some athleticism, which you’ll notice on outside sweeps and pull plays. I know many will hate this, but he reminds me of Richmond’s starting offensive guard, Thomas Evans, given his style of play. The level of competition increases immensely from high school to college, but true football fans can appreciate the number of defenders on the ground after Glavin piles through. Expect Coach Powell to redshirt Jake Glavin with the emergence of players like Mac Patrick (C), Connecticut transfer Zach Rugg (G), Jahee Jackson (G/T) and Tyree Chavious (T) who will play key roles during the 2017 campaign.
Style: Run Blocker
CAA Comparison: Thomas Evans (Richmond)
Offers: Air Force, Robert Morris, St. Francis
Liam Fornadel – 6’3 300lbs
State: New Jersey
High School: Don Bosco Prep
Analysis: JMU’s 2017 prized recruit comes from New Jersey’s premier program, Don Bosco Prep. For those of you who do not know, similar to Paramus HS (Curtis Oliver’s alma mater) and Depaul (Zaire Bethea’s alma mater), Don Bosco is a national powerhouse that consistently has P5 coaches visiting for athletes. Liam Fornadel, son of JMU football alum Paul Fornadel, is rated as a 3 star linemen by both 247sports and Rivals. While I’m sure many of you remember Mickey Matthews’ speech on how “stars get you fired”, Fornadel is the real deal and an impressive haul. James Madison was able to fend off bigger schools like Rutgers, Connecticut, Colorado State, San Diego State and FAU for Liam’s services. For starters, Fornadel is huge. He has a massive frame that can carry another 30 pounds while not losing any quickness, and he’s an impressive athlete. At already 300+ pounds, what stands out on tape is how Fornadel fires off the ball to the second level, either sealing off the backside or driving ‘backers 10-15 yards down the field. He looks every bit the FBS prospect that he’s been billed to be; he also held his own versus 4 and 5-star competition during Rivals’ camps. Long term, Liam would fit in nicely outside at offensive tackle. With Aaron Stinnie being a senior next season, I expect a healthy competition between Fornadel and Jahee Jackson the following year for the blind-side protector role. Given Fornadel’s abilities, don’t be surprised if Coach Powell decides to insert him in the depth chart as a true freshman.
Style: Run Blocker
CAA Comparison: Chris Durant (William & Mary)
Offers: Buffalo, Charlotte, Old Dominion, Coastal Carolina, Connecticut, Monmouth, San Diego State, Rutgers, Colorado State, Florida Atlantic
Defensive Line (6):
Mike Greene – 6’3 273lbs
High School: Highland Springs
Analysis: Highland Springs had over 20 football players sign to play college football this year, and James Madison was able to land one of its top offensive/defensive linemen in Mike Greene. JMU has been on a hot streak landing Richmond players as of late, and Mike Greene is just another stud that will be sporting the purple and gold. While Greene is up to 270 pounds already, he has long arms and the ability to add another 20-30 pounds; he will be a 300-pounder for the Dukes before it’s said and done. What stands out about Greene is his ability to play both defensive and offensive line, which at this level, is highly coveted. With the emphasis on improving both sides of the ball, both Coach Hanson and Coach Powell have an athlete that will be an asset down the road. Expect Greene to redshirt this upcoming season.
Style: Run Stopper
CAA Comparison: Cornell Urquhart (JMU)
Offers: Marshall, Cincinnati, Delaware State, Navy, Old Dominion, Richmond, Air Force
Garrett Groulx – 6’3 240lbs
State: North Carolina
High School: Davidson Day
Analysis: Garrett Groulx is a defensive lineman from North Carolina’s Davidson Day program. A long, lanky athlete, Groulx can either play defensive end or gain weight and play the interior as a gap-penetrating defensive tackle, also known as a 3-technique. An all-state player, Groulx made some noise as a disruptive force on a dominating defense. Being courted by a number of schools on the east coast like Old Dominion, Elon and Richmond, this is an impressive get for JMU, as Davidson Day was another school heavily recruited by big-time college programs. Groulx’s senior year was cut short due to injury, which may have kept some ACC schools away, but you can bet Coach Hanson is excited to have a talent like him to mold. He should redshirt his freshman year and be fully recovered to contribute soon after.
CAA Comparison: Sean O’Neill (JMU Alumnus)
Offers: Old Dominion, Army, Wofford, Richmond, Furman, Western Carolina, Gardner Webb, Charleston Southern, Eastern Kentucky, Army, Mercer, Elon
Marcus Hawkins – 6’3 250lbs
State: North Carolina
High School: Freeman
Analysis: For the caliber of this recruit, Marcus Hawkins’s early commitment to James Madison had me a bit worried. Typically, when a high-touted prospect commits so early, there’s a higher chance that bigger programs can offer and eventually poach them away (see running back PK Kier as an example), but Hawkins’s injury his junior year may have led some ACC schools to look elsewhere. Hawkins is an early enrollee who is currently working out with the team and will be eligible to participate in spring practice. This is a massive benefit since Hawkins will not only be able to adjust to college life, he’ll have a head start with Big John in the weight room, so he can be ready for the fall. With seniors Robinson and Urqhuart leading the way at defensive tackle, along with unproven talents in Rodgers, Knowles-Tener and Atariwa, the addition of Hawkins will provide us with another talented option on the depth chart. Long term, Hawkins should be a disruptive force on the line of scrimmage a la former JMU greats: Jordan Stanton, Lamar Middleton and Ronnell Brown. He brings a mix of quickness and strength to the defensive line, and you know Coach Hanson will teach him the ins and outs of the position. We should see Hawkins in the rotation come fall.
CAA Comparison: Jordan Stanton (JMU)
Offers: Charleston Southern, ECU, Citadel, William & Mary
Keshaun Moore – 6’3 250lbs
High School: Nansemond-Suffolk Academy
Analysis: With the addition of Coach Bryan Stinespring, any seasoned football fan would anticipate that there would be a rise in JMU’s presence in the Virginia Beach area, and it all starts with NSA’s Keshaun Moore. You can consider Moore a massive fish in a small pond. He dominated the private school ranks and meant everything for the NSA program, whether it was running the ball, playing tight end or shutting down opposing offenses as a linebacker. Keshaun Moore did it all, and JMU fell in love with his versatility. At 6’3 250 pounds, Moore can quickly grow into a disruptive defensive end or stay at inside linebacker as a run stopper; the opportunities are endless. Moore has my pick as the dark horse or sleeper pick of the class. Don’t let his lack of offers fool you; he may be a household name on JMU’s defense in a few years.
CAA Comparison: Tyler Snow (JMU Alumnus)
Julian Freeze – 6’2 188lbs
High School: Landstown
Analysis: Commitment number two from the 757 is defensive end/outside linebacker, Julian Freeze. A lanky, rangy athlete from Landstown High School, Freeze’s commitment marks a re-opened pipeline for James Madison to the VA Beach high school scene. A player who has tremendous potential, Freeze will be a playmaker for JMU’s defense after a few years at E-Hall under a college workout regime. He showcased a knack for getting to the quarterback and being a nuisance in opponent’s backfield. What stood out is his tenacity, length and pursuit to the ball which should place him perfectly in JMU’s KAT position on defense. Former JMU 757 alums like Sage Harold or Arthur Moats may come to mind, but candidly, his tape reminds me more of Brandon Lee, who was actually a former HS quarterback/defensive back. Lee came to JMU undersized for the position (just like Freeze), but transformed into a quality pass rusher. I believe Freeze possesses this same potential; his ceiling is certainly higher than Lee’s, and he will have the next five years to prove it.
Style: Pass Rusher
CAA Comparison: Brandon Lee (JMU Alumnus)
Offers: Albany, Elon, Youngstown State, East Carolina
Isaac Ukwu – 6’3 215lbs
High School: Wise
Analysis: Maryland’s Wise High School has been very kind to JMU lately, producing talents like DeAndre Smith, Trevor Brown and John Daka. This year, their stud defensive end, Isaac Ukwu, has decided to join the pack as well. Ukwu transferred to Wise for his senior year,filling the vacancy left by current Duke, John Daka, and was a difference-maker. An absolute menace in the passing game for opposing quarterbacks, his productivity mirrored Daka’s from the year before. While not as explosive and/or fast, Ukwu displayed a better all-around game and may be more suited for college football today. Nonetheless, it’s hard to talk about Ukwu without comparing him to his predecessor. On and off the field, Isaac Ukwu is an impressive addition to James Madison and may see playing time this year, spelling the likes of Ezeagwu, Ankrah, Carter and Daka. After having to play with limited depth on the defensive line this year, JMU now has a slew of athletes to mold and develop for years to come.
Style: Pass Rusher
CAA Comparison: Aaron Harper (JMU Alumnus)
Offers: Furham, Delaware, Florida A&M, Cornell, Yale, Dartmouth, Coastal Carolina, Columbia, Albany, Army, Bucknell, Air Force, Towson, William & Mary, Robert Morris, Navy, University of Pennsylvania
Gus Little – 6’3 230lbs
Previous School: University of Maryland
Analysis: In 2015, Gus Little was one of the most sought-after linebackers in the state of Virginia, garnering offers from a number of FCS and FBS programs, but ultimately committing to the University of Maryland. With the firing of Randy Edsall and a new scheme in place at Maryland, Mike Houston and Bob Trott were able to convince Little to transfer to James Madison. It was well documented that Coach Trott recruited Little heavily while at Richmond and it’s too no surprise we were able to use his existing relationship to our advantage. Gus is a big, aggressive linebacker who can cover ground quickly in the run game. It’s obvious with the graduation of Gage Steele and the uncertainty surrounding Brandon Hereford’s eligibility that finding an instant impact linebacker was key to the defense. Little is a read-and-react player, similar to Steele, in the sense that as long as the defensive tackles keep blockers off of him, he can use his speed to track down ball carriers. Little should fight for playing time alongside junior Dimitri Holloway come fall.
Style: Run Stopper
CAA Comparison: Austin Calitro (Villanova)
Offers: Richmond, VMI, Toledo, Old Dominion, NC State, Elon, Marshall, Charlotte, Boston College, Army, UVA, VMI
Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey – 5’10 250lbs
High School: Lake Taylor
Analysis: Coach Houston and Coach Stinespring struck gold in the 757 in Lake Taylor linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey, a dynamic football player who is tough as nails and embodies everything Houston wants in a defensive prospect. It is well known throughout the Hampton Roads area that Tucker-Dorsey is a tackling machine and his head coached even dubbed him, “the best tackler I’ve ever coached” – mind you, Lake Taylor is the same school that produced current Ohio State Buckeyes and former All-American recruits, defensive end Jalyn Holmes and defensive back Wayne Davis. Underrated in the recruiting process given his size and stature, Tucker-Dorsey was one of the most productive players against top competition in the Eastern District. Given that, it is difficult not to compare Diamonte to former JMU linebacker great, Stephon Robertson. Both were dominant players at running back and linebacker, but P5 schools shied away given their size. Like Robertson, Tucker-Dorsey displays fantastic instincts, speed and is a ferocious hitter. His head coach, Hank Sawyer, said it best, “All the college coaches were talking about how small he was…If he was 6’feet James Madison wouldn’t have been able to touch him. That’s OK, he’s going to make an impact up there (JMU) and the other schools are going to be upset they didn’t get him.” Considering the depth concerns at linebacker and how it will affect special teams, we could see Tucker-Dorsey on the gridiron in the fall.
Style: Run Stopper
CAA Comparison: Stephon Robertson (JMU Alumnus)
Offers: Norfolk State, Elon, Delaware State, Youngstown State, Towson, Maine, Robert Morris, Delaware, Buffalo
Joe Hunt – 6’3 220lbs
High School: Cosby
Analysis: James Madison lands another big, fast and versatile athlete in Cosby linebacker and running back Joe Hunt. Ranked the ninth best football prospect in the 804 by the Richmond Times-Dispatch – Hunt is a force on both sides of the ball (a theme we’ve seen in this class) and will add a tremendous amount of speed to Coach Trott’s defense. Already weighing 220 pounds, I see him either keeping his weight and improving his quickness or adding another 20 pounds and being a weapon for shutting down the run game. His versatility makes him an interesting prospect for JMU fans; there’s certainly a possibility he could end up playing a jack-of-all-trades role like safety Jordan Brown. He may also be used as a weak side linebacker behind Dimitri Holloway. Hunt should redshirt this fall and see playing time early on special teams. With the linebacker position growing long in the tooth quicker than we think, we will need guys like Hunt and Tucker-Dorsey to hit the ground running.
CAA Comparison: Jordan Brown (JMU)
Offers: Army, Navy, Maryland, East Carolina, Coastal Carolina, Kent State, Chattanooga
Defensive Back (3):
Taurus Carroll – 6’0 167lbs
High School: Benedictine Prep
Analysis: The addition of Taurus Carroll was not only a surprise to me personally, but it also was an eye-opener for the level of athlete Coach Houston could bring to JMU. I’ve had my eye on Taurus Carroll since he was at Hylton High School two years ago, and once offers from schools like Maryland and Toledo started rolling in, I was positive he was out of our league. For one reason or another, Carroll transferred to prep schools like Fork Union and, more recently, Benedictine, but he is now going to be a Duke. Carroll is a tremendous athlete who plays with the same swag and confidence that reminds me of none other than Jimmy F%#@ Moreland. What immediately grabs your attention is Carroll’s length, which is key for jamming receivers off the line (watch our defensive back play during the Sam Houston/JMU replay). You’ll also notice he’s an absolute rocket; he has great speed and will allow JMU to continue to play man-to-man on the outside. JMU is currently stacked at corner, but getting older quickly. Tutt, Moreland, Oliver and Robinson are all coming back as juniors, and we need to begin grooming the next group of savages for Bridgeforth Stadium.
Style: Coverage, Ball Hawk
CAA Comparison: Jimmy Moreland (JMU)
Offers: Maryland, Toledo, Towson, Colorado
Wesley McCormick – 5’11 180lbs
High School: Northwest
Analysis: McCormick committed to James Madison over the summer and has been solid on his decision ever since. Like other recruits, he brings speed and size to the position and is a true defensive back, having flourished at the position at Northwest for a number of years. He attacks the ball in the air and has good hips to mirror wide receivers. His current tape reminds me of Raven Greene, but I think he has the potential to be more like former JMU defender Leavander Jones on the outside at corner, given his ability to turn and run. He is listed as having 4.4 40 speed which is certainly an asset on defense – I’d expect McCormick to redshirt this fall to learn the scheme and mature.
CAA Comparison: Leavander Jones (JMU Alumnus)
Offer: St. Francis, Towson
MJ Hampton – 6’0 188lbs
High School: Stafford
Analysis: Hailing from the Fredericksburg area that has given us talented players like Brandon Ravenel and Reggie Collins, James Madison lands safety MJ Hampton. Hampton is like a heat-seeking missile and an absolute headhunter in the defensive backfield. He will bring a nasty, physical demeanor a la Vidal Nelson, who used to punish players like former VT quarterback Tyrod Taylor. One opposing player called Hampton the “strongest player he’s ever played against” and his highlight, full of knockout hits, backs this up. What impressed me most about MJ is his aggressiveness and speed to the ball – he may not always make the right read but he’ll never miss a play due to lack of effort. Hampton did a lot of his dirty work close to the line of scrimmage, so he’ll need time to learn how to play the safety position effectively in our scheme. I’m not sure whether he’ll redshirt or play right away on special teams, but I will not be surprised if Coach Trott uses Hampton early in some of his third-and-long blitz packages.
CAA Comparison: Vidal Nelson (JMU Alumnus)
Offers: Towson, New Hampshire, Richmond, Liberty, UT-Martin, Villanova, Monmouth, ETSU, Furman, Tennessee Tech
Athlete/Special Teams (3)
Noah Beckley – 6’0 190lbs
High School: Salem (Roanoke)
Analysis: A high school quarterback who will likely end up at wide receiver at JMU, Beckley was a surprise on national signing day. An under-the-radar prospect given his light recruitment as a quarterback, Coach Houston and the offensive staff saw something special in this kid to take a chance on him. More importantly, I hope this signing signifies a greater JMU presence in the Roanoke area where schools like Liberty, Richmond and Virginia Tech have dominated in the last few years. The addition of Stinespring should continue that momentum, and I’d love to see JMU add more players from this part of the commonwealth. Players like Beckley’s teammate, linebacker Riley Fox (committed to William & Mary/formerly Richmond), should be no-brainer pickups for JMU.
CAA Comparison: Kevin Gulyas (Villanova)
Offers: VMI, William & Mary
Kyle Davis – 6’0 210lbs
State: North Carolina
High School: Marvin Ridge
Analysis: Kyle Davis is another North Carolina native who will be joining the Dukes as a long snapper. With fan favorite Brett Siegel a senior next year, Coach Bowers will need to begin grooming his replacement, and Davis adds similar qualities to the position. A good athlete who’ll be able to get down the field in coverage, he also offers good velocity on his snaps to ward off incoming defenders. We probably will not hear about Davis for awhile, but let’s hope that remains the case since long snappers, like kickers, are typically off-the-grid unless there are negative plays. The signing of Davis symbolizes Houston’s want and ability to continue to recruit his hometown state. Expect to see that as a trend throughout his tenure.
CAA Comparison: Brett Siegel (JMU)
Harry O’Kelly – 6’1 180lbs
Previous School: Iona College
Analysis: Well, this is a first for me… JMU landed a punter from Australia. There isn’t much to find on him but you bet that he must be good since we offered him a scholarship position. Coach Houston said there would be other special teamers joining the program in the coming months, and with the graduation of all-world punter, Gunner Kane, this position battle will be one to keep an eye on throughout the offseason.
If you think about the areas of need for JMU (linebacker, defensive line, wide receiver, etc.) – our staff came away winners. This is the first class that Mike Houston was able to hand pick and each one of these players exemplifies his personal style of play. Whether it’s having a dual-threat quarterback option with Gage Moloney, building a physically dominant offensive line around Jake Glavin and Liam Fornadel, or continuing to shut down opposing wide receivers in man-to-man coverage with Taurus Carroll and Wesley McCormick – you can see Coach Houston’s personality reflected in each of these additions.
While we will not reap the benefits of this class’ true worth for another 2 to 3 years, we can all collectively get excited about how successful Mike Houston was in landing premier talent in his first year at JMU. The national championship was key in placing JMU back on the map but I imagine we will see even greater dividends in future recruiting classes for years to come.
I hope you enjoyed this year’s recruiting recap. JMU signed 25 recruits with even more joining the program as preferred walk-ons – so I know this had to be a lot to take in. Mike Houston landed a number of quality players and I wouldn’t hesitate to say this class was FBS-esque quality. Big shout outs to my friends Ryan Schnur, Poof and Taylor Bittner for their contributions to this year’s write up, “Fight for Glory” (you know who you are) for being fantastic all season long and being open to listening to my over-the-top football rants, the “JMU Twitter Mob” for all the epic trash talk in the playoffs, and last but not least, the rest of JMU nation for rooting their hearts out this fall!
Let’s pack Bridgeforth Stadium on September 9th and remember…you have to stand up on third down!!!