With National Signing Day in the books, Richmond football coach Danny Rocco is excited about his new class of players and said he felt his team filled its most dire needs on signing day.
In all, 17 players signed their letters of intent Wednesday to play football for Richmond. Three more players are already at Richmond, having already signed a few months ago as transfers from other universities.
The Spiders were particularly successful in filling their four biggest needs: defensive linemen, linebackers, receivers/tight ends and offensive linemen, Rocco said. He pointed out the loss of senior starters at all four positions, and said the coaching staff had focused heavily on recruiting those positions throughout the entire process.
The recruiting class is particularly strong along the defensive line, which was the team’s most glaring weakness with the loss of six seniors. The players leaving include Justin Williamson and Terrence Fullum, both disruptive defenders last season, as well as Evan Kelly, a defensive leader who transferred to Boston College.
But the Spiders filled those spaces with five new defensive linemen, four of who signed yesterday and one who transferred from Pittsburgh at the beginning of the semester. Two standouts in this group include Andre Booker, a Richmond native who played at Manchester High, and Ben Schrider, a California native.
Booker’s main reason for choosing Richmond was its proximity to home. He had offers from other CAA schools such as Delaware and James Madison, but said the combination of academic prestige and his relationship with Spider players and coaches led him to choose Richmond.
Booker cited defensive-line coach Levern Belin and defensive lineman Winston Craig as people he has enjoyed getting to know so far. “You just feel like, ‘I can play hard for this dude,’” he said of Belin. Booker spent his official visit with Craig and after just meeting him, he felt as if they had been friends for years, he said.
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Schrider was another commit that Rocco expressed particular excitement for. Schrider, who had offers from big-name FBS schools such as Syracuse and Fresno State, chose Richmond because of the high-end athletics and academics.
The journey from California to the east coast was one Schrider knew he wanted to make all along because he has family in Richmond and Maryland. Rocco recalled being stressed that Schrider, who committed in December, would de-commit after a visit to Fresno State last week.
“Really excited about Ben,” Rocco said. “He’s a great fit for the university. He is one of the guys that was actually on an official visit last weekend, which kind of makes this process very nerve-wracking and challenging.”
But the visit only reaffirmed the decision to come to Richmond, Schrider said.
Richmond was “defensive heavy” early in the recruiting process, picking up commitments from a number of defensive players, Rocco said. Late in the recruiting period, the Spiders had to focus on offensive players, and the majority of the late commitments were offensive-skilled players.
One of the highlights of the offensive class is Garrett Hudson, a tight end who transferred from North Carolina at the beginning of the semester. Hudson has been with the program for about four weeks now working out and getting to know the players and coaches.
There will be heavy competition between Hudson and current tight ends Nick Holloway and Stephen Jacob as they try to replace the three senior tight ends from last season, Hudson said. He chose Richmond because it was close to his home in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Other standout commits include receiver Tyler Wilkins, who played high school football in the Richmond area, and Micah Keels, a 6-foot-2-inch defensive back who played down the road at Fork Union Military Academy. Rocco also emphasized his excitement for signing receiver Gershom Ejoni, a Wake Forest, North Carolina, native whom he compared to current Richmond standout Reggie Diggs.
The Spiders also added a new coach this week to round out the 2015 staff. Clint Sintim, a former Virginia Cavalier and New York Giant, will coach linebackers and defensive linemen. He is replacing Byron Thweatt, who recently became the head coach at Virginia State.
Rocco also addressed a new agreement Wednesday among FBS schools in the power-5 conferences that will give athletes stipends to pay for living expenses. The CAA has not discussed such a plan, so there is a possibility that players with offers to both FBS and FCS schools (such as Schrider) could choose to play in the FBS in order to receive the extra money.
Rocco said he would not be able to discuss the implications of the agreement until next recruiting season, after the changes have taken effect.
A complete list of the 2015 incoming commits can be found here. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Contact Sports Editor Charlie Broaddus at firstname.lastname@example.org
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