College recruiting: In short time, JSU's Grass pulls in solid class
by Al Muskewitz
Feb 05, 2014 | 2772 views |  0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
John Grass is Jacksonville State's new head football coach. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
John Grass is Jacksonville State's new head football coach. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
JACKSONVILLE — Tyler Johnson and Ryan Childers might have been “a little bit worried” when Jacksonville State changed football staffs shortly after the players offered their commitments late in the recruiting game, but new JSU coach John Grass wasn’t.

At least, he was accepting of whatever was going to happen.

It might have been only three weeks to National Signing Day when former head coach Bill Clark left for UAB and Grass was promoted as his successor, but the Gamecocks still managed to deliver what they considered a “solid” – albeit small – class, one comparable in quality to what they signed a year ago.

Still feeling some impact from sanctions because of past APR issues and having a small graduating class, the Gamecocks signed only 14 prospects to initial scholarship grants Wednesday.

They did bring in three Southeastern Conference transfers in January. They also supplemented the class with 10 players on other financial aid plans who would have been signees had the Gamecocks had more football scholarships to give – a group that included Glencoe lineman Johnson and Vestavia linebacker Childers. That boosted their signing day haul to 27.

“I hadn’t been in this game long, but you could ask any college coach across the country if they’re worried no matter how strong their relationships were going into 7 this morning and you don’t believe it until you see the fax come through and you’ve got it in your hand and signed because anything can happen,” Grass said. “But I felt we did a great job the last two recruiting weekends keeping those relationships, so I felt confident going into this morning we had done a good job.

“I don’t think we could ask for it to have gone any better. … You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. We’re going to end up with who we’re supposed to end up with, and I think that’s the way it happened, and that’s the way it’s always going to happen.”

The Gamecocks didn’t lose many, but with the relationships the former staff built with players for JSU, the potential was there.

Clark and the assistants he took to UAB had recruited a solid commitment list for JSU who suddenly became potential steals for the Blazers. Last year, the Gamecocks signed several players who were courted by Clark and Company for South Alabama before he took the JSU job.

Several commitments said during the transition they didn’t believe the change would affect their decisions. Johnson said there was “some talk” about him going to UAB, but the JSU experience kept him in place. The only prospect the Gamecocks appeared to have lost off its list to UAB was Atlanta defensive back Demarco Davis.

They did also lose Munford safety Tavon Lawson to Chattanooga, Wetumpka lineman Christian Williams to Georgia Southern and Mississippi quarterback commitment Wyatt Roberts to the junior college route.

Grass said he didn’t think head-to-head recruiting by the former JSU staff was an issue down recruiting’s stretch run.

“That stuff’s going to overlap,” he said. “If you’re recruiting in this state at the I-AA Division I level you’re going to go after the same type kid. They had relationships with some of the kids we got on our paper today and we had relationships we lost today. That’s all part of the recruiting deal.”

Perhaps the most intriguing tug of war was taking place in Ashville, Grass’ high school alma mater, where three-star linebacker prospect E.J. Moss was wavering between UAB and JSU.

Moss divulged his decision to each school Tuesday night, out of respect for the coaches who recruited him, but didn’t make it public until his signing ceremony Wednesday. And it was a spectacle.

In the ceremony, Moss placed a UAB cap on his right and a JSU cap on his left. When it came time to announce, Moss grabbed at the UAB cap, paused, then reached into a bag on his lap before displaying a pair of JSU linebacker gloves that he used to put the JSU cap on his head.

“It was really tough to come to this decision,” he said. “Both teams were really good and both kept it real with me the whole time. They didn’t tell me something and do something other. That’s why I stuck with these two teams.”

Moss, the highest-rated high school prospect in the JSU class, said he didn’t sense any hard-core recruiting antics between the two programs vying for his services, but he did catch the pitch.

“They were like we respect the other team really well,” he said. “Both of them are really good friends, but they both also told me I wanted you first.

“It was kind of confusing me up. I prayed about it and went with my heart.”

At one point he weighed the pros and cons of each. UAB played on a bigger stage, but has historically struggled to make its way. JSU played on a smaller level, but appeared to be building toward national championship contention.

Ultimately, for a prospect like Moss who had received interest from virtually every SEC school and offers from Kentucky and Ole Miss, it came down to personal comfort.

“I just felt at home at JSU, really,” he said. “I just couldn’t feel that at UAB.”

Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.
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