Deion Sanders made headlines during college football’s early signing period by landing a five-star prospect to play at Jackson State.
It was another former NFL defensive back-turned-coach, however, who has quietly collected an even more impressive collection of recruiting stars.
By signing 11 incoming players rated as either three- and four-star performers, a number that continues to grow with another addition announced Monday, Campbell’s Mike Minter has assembled the No. 1 recruiting class in the country among Football Championship Subdivision schools as ranked by both 247Sports and Rivals.
“It helped that Coach Prime got a five-star,” Minter said of Sanders’ recruitment of Georgia wide receiver Travis Hunter. “That made things a little bit easier because now you can say to a player it’s not about where you go, it’s about who you connect with. That’s the deal.”
Minter and his staff have made plenty of connections during the current cycle. They convinced 15 players to come to Buies Creek in December before adding four more during the regular signing period that continues through April 1.
It’s a haul highlighted by four-star safeties Myles Rowser from Detroit and Edric Weldon of Miami, along with a large three-star contingent: quarterback Chad Mascoe of Kissimmee, Florida; tight end Michael Hawkins of Somerset, Kentucky; defensive linemen Paul Hutson III of Norfolk, Virginia, and Ky’Mani Williams of Hallandale, Florida; linebackers Chris Jackson of Toledo, Ohio, and Taylor Behl, a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe; defensive backs Akim Sledge of Colonial Heights, Virginia, and Idris Williams of Plant City, Florida; and in-state offensive lineman Desaun Williams from Bethel.
In all, Campbell has signed 19 players to its 2022 class — a success that has taken many recruiting experts by surprise.
But not Minter, whose Camels continue to make significant strides forward in just their fourth year as a scholarship program.
“Our No. 1 goal for ’22 was to have the No. 1 recruiting class,” said Minter, who played 10 professional seasons with the Carolina Panthers. “We started it out in January ’21 and we said that’s our No. 1 goal. So everybody focused on that. We didn’t focus on anything else, which meant that we were going to have to do a lot of research. We looked at that and then we decided, ‘OK, let’s go after these four- and three-stars.’”
Going after them is one thing. Actually convincing them to play for a small school such as Campbell is the hard part.
Minter accomplished that goal through a combination of his salesmanship and assembling an aggressive staff that includes fellow NFL alumni Pat White, Reggie Howard and Dee Brown.
“I went out and got guys that have a name and people understand who they are,” Minter said, adding that he’s “proud of how everybody executed the plan we put together.”
In addition to the name recognition, Minter has enhanced the Camels’ profile with an aggressive scheduling strategy that includes future games against Florida, North Carolina and NC State. Campbell also played four Bowl Subdivision opponents during the COVID-abbreviated 2020 season, giving them some nationally televised exposure while the rest of the Big South was sitting out on the sidelines.
“That’s the marketing piece to it,” Minter said. “How do you market your brand? Playing on ESPN (in 2020) introduces you to the world, especially when nobody else is playing. You’re the only FCS team playing on TV every week.
“To me, that’s marketing 101. So yeah, to execute all that, to get to where we are as the No.1 recruiting class and the coaching staff now that I have, it’s working. Now we have to go out and get it done” by winning games.
Like Campbell, most of the state’s other Division I programs got the bulk of their recruiting done early, with only a few additions during the current signing period.
At North Carolina, coach Mack Brown put together his highest-rated class to date, topping the ACC rankings and placing No. 10 nationally with a 17-man group headed by a pair of five stars — defensive lineman Travis Shaw of Greensboro and offensive lineman Zach Rice of Lynchburg, Virginia.
New Duke coach Mike Elko hit the ground running with 18 signees, headed by four-star defensive lineman Vincent Anthony from nearby Jordan High in Durham.
Although the classes at NC State and Wake Forest aren’t as “star” studded, coaches Dave Doeren and Dave Clawson both have a history of developing players and producing winning teams, while Appalachian State, East Carolina and Charlotte all amassed classes ranked in the upper half of their respective conferences.