Jacksonville State’s small but solid class of 14 initial grants featured five linebackers and four offensive linemen. There were three other linebackers and three more offensive linemen among 10 alternative aid/preferred walk-ons that supplemented the class.
What was missing, though, was help for the secondary, although that need didn’t arise until a few weeks before signing day.
“We just look to get the best players,” said Grass, promoted to replace Bill Clark as the Gamecocks head coach Jan. 21, fewer than three weeks before signing day. “We lost a lot of linebackers and we’ve got to replenish that. Offensive linemen, you can’t ever have enough of those.”
The linebacker spot was most pressing because the Gamecocks were losing four senior starters who ranked 3-4-5-6 on their tackles list for the year.
The incoming class is led by three-star Ashville High prospect E.J. Moss. It also includes Opp’s Quantavise Stoudemire, Walker County’s Austin Mansell, Vestavia Hills’ Dalton Campbell and Michael Leonard of Buford, Ga. Ryan Childers, a teammate of Campbell’s, is one of the supplemental signees.
Size is the operative word on the offensive linemen. Five among the total take are 290 or bigger.
The big catches are Hayden’s Tyler Swindle (6-5, 298) and East Mississippi Community College transfer Kyron Samuels (6-2, 320), the nephew of former Alabama All-American and six-time Pro Bowler Chris Samuels. Glencoe’s Tyler Johnson (6-6, 320) and Enterprise’s Thomas Stinson (6-3, 315) are among the supplemental signees.
They may seem counter-intuitive for a team that wants to run a fast-paced offense, but Grass is comfortable with them.
“These are not heavy, overweight guys,” he said. “Grass said. “They may weigh 300-plus pounds, but they’re still lean-type kids and looking for that height we need. If you put the prototypical college offensive lineman, you want that 6-4, 6-5, 6-6 range and we were able to get those type guys. We feel this is a great class for that and hopefully we can continue to get guys like that.”
Samuels brings instant depth to the offensive front and Swindle already is projected to be in the two-deep that loses only one player from the 2013 depth chart. Swindle had offers from most of the non-SEC Division I programs in the state and took trips to Texas Christian and Florida Atlantic.
“The ceiling for him is real high,” Grass said. “You’re talking about a kid who had a half-dozen Division I offers, and that’s huge for an FCS school to be able to (sign) that straight out of high school.
“Guys like that, most of the time, you have to get back on a transfer. We feel good to get him in a signing class.”
The Gamecocks looked to be solid in the secondary, then sophomore safety Brandon Bender transferred to Faulkner and junior safety Pierre Warren surrendered his remaining eligibility to declare for the NFL draft. They were the Gamecocks’ two leading tacklers this season.
“It was not a huge need for us before December, but after December it became a huge need for us,” Grass said.
The Gamecocks did have two defensive back commitments in the run up to signing day, but lost Munford safety Tavon Lawson to Chattanooga and Atlanta’s Demarco Davis to Clark and UAB.
They did have former Georgia safety Shaquille Fluker transfer into the program in December and have Siran Neal coming out of a redshirt year, but picking up a defensive in this class would have given them a foundation for the future.
“It’s a deal we’re going to have to go through spring to see what we’ve got,” Grass said. “We feel comfortable going into the spring with what we’ve got.
“We did not feel there was a high school safety out there who we felt could come in and play for us immediately. We’re going to have to find a guy in the summer, after spring, if we need one. We’ll have to see what we have in the spring with these guys and evaluate and see what we’ll have to fix before fall.”
If you’re looking for a sleeper in the class, it might Eagles Landing Christian’s Dalton Etheridge. He’s a dual-threat quarterback Grass compares to Russell Wilson of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks or Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams, but he checks in at only 5-11, 190.
“If he’s 6-2, 6-3, he’s being offered by everybody in the country,” Grass said. “I’m glad we were able to hang onto him. I feel if he wasn’t such a solid commit to us, you’d have a lot of guys who’d come in on him late – and some did.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.