New coaches scramble to assemble classes on early signing day

Four of the seven coaches at the state's FBS schools were hired since the end of the regular season and have had less than a month to recruit players

Mack Brown, center, is introduced by University of North Carolina Chancellor Carol Folt, left, as the school's new NCAA college football coach on Nov. 27 (Robert Willett / The News & Observer via AP)

  College football’s new early signing period, which was instituted last year, has increased the pressure on coaches — especially those like Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson, who is already in Birmingham preparing his team to play in Saturday’s Birmingham Bowl game against Memphis.

  It’s especially difficult on new coaches just hired by their respective schools.

  Four of North Carolina’s seven FBS programs are in that situation as they scramble to put together competitive recruiting classes on short notice. North Carolina’s Mack Brown, as the earliest of the hires, had the time to do his work and the results show it. Mike Houston, who joined East Carolina the day after the Pirates’ final game on Dec. 1, also managed to sign nearly a full class, while more recent additions Eli Drinkwitz at Appalachian State and Will Healy at Charlotte still have a lot of work to do.

  Here is a rundown of all the signing day classes announced by each of the seven state schools:


Brown and his newly formed staff made an immediate splash by signing an 18-man recruiting class, highlighted by four-star quarterback Sam Howell, who originally committed to Florida State and is the highest-rated passer to play for UNC since Bryn Renner.

   While some of the new recruits were already committed when Brown took over for Larry Fedora on Nov. 27, 11 of Wednesday’s signees decided to play for the Tar Heels  since the coaching change.

“If you had asked me three weeks ago if we would have what we have today, I would have been really surprised,” Brown said. “This is much better than I anticipated it being.”

Welton Spottsville, WR, 6-0, 200, Havelock (Havelock)

Storm Duck, DB, 6-1, 180, Boiling Springs, SC (Boiling Springs)

Triston Miller, OL, 6-6, 290, Charlotte (Country Day)

Giovanni Biggers, DB, 6-1, 175, Columbia, Md. (Boys Latin)

Josh Henderson, RB, 6-1, 205, Pennington, NJ (The Hun School of Princeton)

Wyatt Tunall, OL, 6-5, 270, Chester, SC (Chester)

Ben Kiernan, P, 6-0, 205, Raleigh (Wakefield)

Asim Richards, OL, 6-5, 285, Philadelphia, Pa. (Haverford School)

Justin Olson, WR, 6-2, 185, Huntersville (N. Mecklenburg)

Kristian Varner, DL, 6-4, 240, Hiram, Ga. (Hiram)

Kevin Hester, DL, 6-5, 255, Kennesaw, Ga., (North Cobb)

Drew Little, LS, 5-11, 225, Richfield (North Stanly)

Obi Egbuna, DB, 5-11, 180, Charlotte (Charlotte Christian)

Emery Simmons, WR, 6-2, 190, Parkton (South View)

Kamari Morales, TE, 6-3, 235, Buck Lake, Fla. (Lincoln)

Tomari Fox, DL, 6-3, 250, Lawrenceville, Ga. (Collins Hill)

Khadry Jackson, LB, 6-2, 200, Windermere, Fla. (Windermere Prep)

Sam Howell, QB, 6-1, 225, Monroe (Sun Valley)


Coach Dave Doeren continued to build on his program’s momentum by signing the highest-rated class of his seven-year tenure with the Wolfpack. It’s a group that includes nine Shrine Bowl selections, four four-star prospects and 15 from within the state of North Carolina. Sixteen of the 19 players signed plan to enroll early, giving them a head start on preparing for the 2019 season.

Like Brown, Doeren also signed a quarterback that could step right in and be the starter next year in Bailey Hockman, the top-ranked junior college quarterback in the nation.

The Wolfpack’s class is also heavy on defensive linemen and wide receivers, a fact Doeren said is directly related to State’s recent success of sending players at those positions to the NFL.

“When you have four players drafted on the D-line, it’s happened three times in NFL history in the history of the NFL draft, then all of a sudden you see us get the four best defensive linemen in the state, there’s a correlation there,” Doeren said. “When kids can see it, it’s different than when you just talk about it. … It’s not just lip service.”

Shyheim Battle, DB, 6-2, 175, Rocky Mount (Rocky Mount)

C.J. Clark, DL, 6-3, 280, New London (North Stanly)

Terrell Dawkins, DL, 6-4, 240, Cox Mill (Cox Mill)

Ikem Ekwonu, OL, 6-4, 298, Charlotte (Providence Day)

Ty Evans, QB, 6-2, 192, Colorado Springs, Col. (Palmer Ridge)

Jalen Frazier, DB, 5-10, 175, Denver, NC (Hough)

Jakeen Harris, DB, 5-11, 185, Savannah, Ga. (Benedictine Military)

Joshua Harris, DL, 6-2, 320, Roxboro (Person)

Bailey Hockman, QB, 6-2, 210, Powder Springs, Ga. (Hutchinson CC)

Savion Jackson, DL, 6-3, 260, Clayton (Clayton)

Zonovan Knight, RB, 6-0, 190, Bailey (Southern Nash)

Keyon Lesane, WR, 6-0, 185, Lumberton (Butler)

Zovon Lindsay, OL, 6-4, 270, Fayetteville (Trinity Christian)

Khalid Martin, DB, 6-2, 200, Tobaccoville (East Forsyth)

Timothy McKay, OL, 6-3, 295, Raleigh (Wakefield)

Dylan McMahon, OL, 6-3, 290, Savannah, Ga. (Savannah Christian)

Jaylon Scott, LB, 6-1, 230, Shelby (Shelby)

Drake Thomas, LB, 6-1, 225, Wake Forest (Heritage)

Chris Toudle, WR, 6-3, 215, Wilmington (Hoggard)


   Coach David Cutcliffe added 20 recruits, with a heavy emphasis on the trenches. Among the newest Blue Devils are five defensive linemen and four that play up front on the offensive side of the ball.

“Looking at defense, we wanted front-end people that were really versatile,” Cutcliffe said. “The front has got speed, it has size, it’s got strength, it’s got lots of athleticism. On offense, it always starts up front. I’m thrilled to death to add those offensive linemen.

“If there’s one thing right now we’re trying to build, it’s an offensive line unit that’s the best we can have. I think that’s important right now that we take the right people. I think we addressed a need in that regard.”

Jalen Alexander, DB, 5-11, 165, Loganville, Ga. (Grayson)

Jalon Calhoun, WR, 5-11, 182, Greenville, SC (Southside)

Ron Carr, OL, 6-4, 250, Solon, Ohio (Solon)

DeWayne Carter, DL, 6-3, 290, Pickerington, Ohio (Pickerington Central)

Jaylen Coleman, RB, 6-1, 195, Matthews (Porter Ridge)

Ahmed Craig, DL, 6-5, 250, Buford, Ga. (Buford)

Tony Davis, DB, 6-2, 190, Gastonia (Hunter Huss)

John Gelotte, OL, 6-5, 290, Moore, S.C. (Dorman)

Charlie Ham, PK, 6-1, 180, Atlanta (Westminster School)

Darrell Harding, WR, 6-4, 200, Winter Garden, Fla. (West Orange)

Isaiah Kemp, DB, 6-1, 180, Wilmington (Hoggard)

Jacob Monk, OL, 6-3, 299, Clayton (Corinth Holders)

RJ Oben, DL, 6-4, 240, Montclair, NJ (St. Peter’s)

Caleb Oppan, DL, 6-4, Kennesaw, Ga. (North Cobb)

Eli Pancol, WR, 6-3, 195, Pendleton, Ind. (Pendleton Heights)

Christian Rorie, DL, 6-6, 270, Raleigh (Enloe)

Matt Smith, TE, 6-4, 220, Needham, Mass. (Needham)

Sayyid Stevens, LB, 6-2, 220, Midway, Ga. (Calvary Baptist Day)

Jordan Waters, DB, 6-1, 206, Lumberton (Fairmont)

Elijah Wroten, OL, 6-3, 310, Oreland, Pa. (Germantown Academy)


Clawson had a drama-free signing day, picking up signed commitments from 20 incoming freshmen and graduate transfer defensive lineman Miles Fox from Old Dominion.

Of the newcomers, 11 play on the defensive side of the ball. Nineteen of the 20 high school signees served as a team captain of their high school team and 13 played in state championship games during their high school career and nine won state titles.  Four players won multiple state championships.

The highlight of the group is a pair of four-star in-state receivers — Donavon Greene of Mount Airy and Nolan Groulx of Cornelius.

“With three consecutive bowl games and the facilities we’ve built … those are two players who had lots of options,” Clawson said. “I think the fact we were able to land those two players tells you how much progress we’ve made in our program internally and also the external perception of our program. I don’t think those are two guys three or four years ago we could have got committed and signed to Wake Forest.”

CJ Elmonus, OL, 6-7, 255, Fairview (AC Reynolds)

Nolan Groulx, WR, 6-0, 185, Cornelius (Hough)

Shamar McCollum, DL, 6-4, 200, Hamer, SC (Dillon)

Drelyn Ford, TE, 6-5, 205, Franklin, Va. (Franklin)

Michael Kern, QB, 6-1, 170, Orlando, Fla. (Lake Nona)

Ivan Mora, PK, 6-0, 160, Dalton, Ga. (Dalton)

Jeremiah Gray, DB, 6-1, 210, Charlotte (Charlotte Christian)

Kendrell Flowers, 6-0, 190, Columbia, SC (Irmo)

AJ Williams, DB, 6-0, 180, Bamberg, SC (Bamberg-Ehrhardt)

Donavon Greene, WR, 6-2, 185, Mount Airy (Mount Airy)

Will Smart, DL, 6-4, 255, Milford, NJ (Delbarton School)

Cameron Hite, TE, 6-2, 215, Greenville, Tenn. (Greenville)

Justin Williams, DL, 6-2, 245, Armwood, Fla. (Seffner)

Zach Ranson, DB, 6-3, 205, Snellville, Ga. (St. Pius X)

Jaylen Hudson, LB, 6-3, 225, Fayetteville (Cape Fear)

Isaiah Chaney, DL, 6-4, 230, Cartersville, Ga. (Cartersville)

Taylor Morin, WR, 5-10, 170, Centreville, Va. (Westfield)

*Miles Fox, DL, 6-1, 290, Lawrenceville, Ga. (Old Dominion)

Chase Jones, LB, 6-2, Warren, NJ (St. Peter’s)

Kenneth Walker III, RB, 5-10, 190, Arlington, Tenn. (Arlington)

*-graduate transfer


Unlike Brown, who went out and stockpiled his own players in the short time he had to recruit, Houston concentrated on keeping the players committed to the Pirates by his predecessor Scottie Montgomery. The new coach did have one significant late addition to the class in three-star running back Demetrius Mauney from Forest City.

In all, the Pirates signed 16 high school seniors and two JUCO transfers, 11 of whom are from North Carolina with eight planning to enroll early and be available for spring practice.

“I don’t know that it could have gone much smoother than it did this morning,” Houston said Wednesday. “We had 18 committed student-athletes coming into this morning, and I stand here before you today with 18 signees. So, 18-for-18 is a good start to the recruiting season.”

Alex Angus, DB, 6-2,190, Browns Summit (Page)

Keziah Everett, DT, 6-1, 325, Farmville (Central)

Malik Fleming, DB, 5-9, 180, Fairburn, Ga. (Hapeville Charter)

Alex Flinn, QB, 6-1, 210, Fletcher (AC Reynolds)

Traveon Freshwater, DE, 6-1, 230, Elizabeth City (Northeaster)

Bryan Gagg, QB, 6-3, 200, Bradenton, Fla. (Braden River)

Hozey Haji-Badri, DT, 6-3, 270, Chantilly, Va. (ASA College)

Jsi Hatfield, WR, 5-9, 175, Graham (Southern Alamance)

Trent Holler, OL, 6-2, 285, Latrobe, Pa. (Greater Latrobe)

CJ Johnson, WR, 6-2, 220, Greenville (DH Conley)

Jeremy Lewis, TE, 6-3, 215, Greenville (South Central)

Bailey Malovic, OL, 6-6, 260, Irmo, SC (Highland CC)

Demetrius Mauney, RB, 6-0, 195, Forest City (East Rutherford)

Ja’Quan McMillian, DB, 5-9, 165, Winston-Salem (West Forsyth)

Patrick Nations, PK, 6-0, 190, Tamassee (Walhalla)

Juan Powell, ATH, 5-11, 170, Greensboro (SE Guilford)

Chad Stephens, LB, 6-0, 225, Greensboro (SE Guilford)

Nishad Strother, OL, 6-3, 290, Havelock (Havelock)


Drinkwitz has only been on the job for three days, so most of his work will be done in advance of the traditional signing day in February. Considering that this year’s team will only lose 13 seniors, he can afford to be selective.

Still, the former NC State offensive coordinator managed to get signed letters of intent from nine new recruits.

“I’m thrilled with the guys that we were able to sign today,” Drinkwitz said. “You can definitely tell the kids who were committed to the Appalachian State tradition and culture. It recruited itself. They have a special bond with the Appalachian State family.”

Jourdan Heilig, LB, 6-1, 195, Concord (Concord)

Lyle Hiers, OL, 6-5, 260, Lake Wales, Fla. (Lake Wales)

Tre Caldwell, DB, 5-10, 186, Greensboro (SE Guilford)

Christian Wells, WR, 5-11, 170, Fr. Lauderdale, Fla. (University School)

Dashaun Davis, WR, 5-10, 155, Deerfield Beach, Fla. (Deerfield Beach)

Nicholas Ross, DB, 5-10, 175, Kennesaw, Ga., (Kell)

Luke Smith, DL, 6-1, 292, Lebanon, Tenn. (Friendship Christian)

Ricky Kofoed, TE, 6-3, 220, Charlotte (Charlotte Christian)

Brendan Harrington, OLB, 6-1, 205, Pittsboro (Northwood)


the 49ers stayed close to home with the 10 players that signed during the early period, with six coming from North Carolina and three from the greater Charlotte area.

“I think that the quality of high school football here is off the charts,” Healy said. “I think Charlotte football players are blown away by what this place is. For them, it was continuing to show them this campus. It’s fun to show them what this place has to offer.”

Peter Agabe, LB, 6-2, 215, North Miami Beach, Fla. (GA Military College)

Trey Bly, CB, 5-8, 150, Charlotte (Myers Park)

Tre’veran Goode, WR, 6-3, 185, Jamestown (Ragsdale)

Yontez Jarrell, OL, 6-6, 265, Jacksonville, Fla. (Ed White)

Michael Kelly, DL, 6-3, 225, Graham (Graham)

Quinton Patten, WR, 6-0, 185, Blythewood, SC (Blythewood)

Rhett Read, TE, 6-4, 230, Buffalo, Tex. (Blinn CC)

Solomon Rogers, DB, 6-0, 180, Rolesville (Rolesville)

Jaylon Sharpe, LB, 6-3, 225, Charlotte (Rocky River)

Bryson Whitehead, DB, 5-11, 180, Cornelius (Hough)