National Signing Day has come and gone, and while the rest of the nation waxes poetic about what some of the top teams in the country have done for 2008 and beyond, some of us look at the day for what it really is -- some of the top local high school talent deciding where they are going to further their educations and athletic careers.
In the case of Old Dominion University, National Signing Day was also the next step in the process of starting up a Division I-AA -- or Football Championship Subdivision, if you're so inclined -- program. Head coach Bobby Wilder announced the signing of 21 players, all of whom will redshirt the 2008 season in preparation for the program's first game in 2009.
Of the 21 players signed, 10 are from Hampton Roads, an area in which the ODU campus is situated in the middle. Southeastern Virginia is an area rife with football talent -- talent that often finds its way to Virginia or Virginia Tech, or even one of the state's Div. I-AA powers in William and Mary, James Madison, Norfolk State and Hampton.
So if ODU was to succeed, Wilder and his staff -- in which there are three assistants with local connections -- needed to place emphasis on recruiting in Hampton Roads.
Below is a list of the 21 players who will be among the first ODU football team in more than half a century. Hampton Roads signees will be in bold, and impressions will be given when warranted. The list and all relavant statistics are courtesy of the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).
-Chris Burnette (Gilman HS, Randallstown, Md.): 6-4 | 260 | DL | Had 78 tackles, seven sacks as a senior.
-Michael Colbert (E.E. Smith HS, Fayetteville, N.C.): 6-1 | 205 | LB | Had 144 tackles, 66 solo, as a senior.
-Vondre Combs (Warwick HS, Newport News, Va.): 6-0 | 215 | LB | Had 105 tackles as a senior in 2006.
-Bobby Cooper (South River HS, Davidsonville, Md.): 6-3 | 200 | QB | Despite leading a run-first offense, Cooper threw for over 3,100 yards and 28 TDs as a senior.
-T.J. Cowart (Ocean Lakes HS, Virginia Beach, Va.): 5-9 | 180 | DB | Undersized but speedy, doubled as running back as a senior; intercepted top national recruit and Florida State commit E.J. Manuel three times in a game last season.
-Carlos Davis (Friendly HS, Fort Washington, Md.): 5-10 | 170 | WR | Has 4.4 speed, caught 30 balls for over 600 yards as a senior.
-Reid Evans (Phoebus HS, Hampton, Va.): 5-10 | 175 | WR | Had 68 catches for 1,135 yards and eight TDs as a senior. Also used his speed to intercept seven passes as the Phantoms advanced to the Virginia Group AAA state semifinals.
-Drew Hareza (South Fayette HS, South Fayette, Penn.): 6-0 | 205 | K/P | Made eight field goals as a senior, with a long of 45 yards, and was 23-for-23 on extra-point tries.
-Deanthony Jones (C.H. Flowers HS, Hyattsville, Md.): 6-0 | 180 | DB | Played quarterback in high school but looks to be a free safety in college.
-Nick Mayers (Landstown HS, Virginia Beach, Va.): 5-7 | 160 | WR/RB | Rushed for 728 yards, had 484 receiving yards and scored 16 TDs as a senior. Versatile enough to fill both slots in college, and even played WB briefly for the Eagles because of injuries.
-Bryan Morrison (Broad Run HS, Ashburn, Va.): 6-2 | 260 | OL | This three-year starter was first-team all-district and all-region as a senior.
-Ricky Nichols (Maury HS, Norfolk, Va.): 5-11 | 175 | DB | ODU's first recruit, Nichols will reunite with assistant coach Dealton Cotton, who was once head man at Maury, a high school 10 minutes from campus. Nichols is small but quick and has a good eye for the ball.
-Tommy Raemon Jr. (Gloucester HS, Gloucester, Va.): 6-2 | 195 | QB | 13 TDs and 36 INTs might not sound like college material, but Raemon played for a poor Gloucester team, and he impressed scouts in summer camps. His father, Tommy Raemon Sr., is the coach at Gloucester and was once Michael Vick's coach at nearby Warwick High.
-Erik Saylor (Urbana HS, Ijamsville, Md.): 6-2 | 265 | DL | Had 71 tackles and seven sacks as a senior.
-Devon Simmons (Denbigh HS, Newport News, Va.): 6-2 | 180 | DB | Had 105 tackles, forced seven fumbles as a senior. Three-sport athlete.
-Andrew Turner (Kellam HS, Virginia Beach, Va.): 6-3 | 235 | DE | Played defensive end and tight end at Kellam, earned first-team All-Beach District honors at tight end. Had 60 tackles as defensive end, using a large, muscular frame to impose his will on shorter, flabbier offensive linemen.
-Charles Walls (Tallwood HS, Virginia Beach, Va.): 6-2 | 281 | OL | Committed to Kent State in August, but changed his mind in December to stay closer to home. Clogs up pass-rushing lanes and uses solid fundamentals.
-Joacim Wigfall (Woodside HS, Newport News, Va.): 5-10 | 210 | RB | Rushed for 1,467 yards and 16 TDs as a senior in 2006.
-Craig Wilkins (H.D. Woodson HS, Washington, D.C.): Had 103 tackles, broke up 23 passes and had eight INTs as a senior.
-Desmond Williams (Bertie HS, Windsor, N.C.): 5-11 | 188 | WR | Played quarterback as a senior, throwing for over 2,100 yards. His athleticism will likely move him to the wideout slot.
-Joseph Wills ( Westlake HS, Waldorf, Md.): 6-3 | 262 | OL | Had 49 tackles and nine sacks as a senior; an All-Southern Maryland Athletic Conference selection.
So although the Monarchs won't actually take the field until 2009, the reality of ODU football is growing clearer by the day. So many local recruits are a good sign, signaling that the staff knows just how important gaining a presence in the area is. This is important, considering Wilder's roots are in Maine.
For ODU football to succeed -- in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Monarchs are joining a conference that has won two of the last five Div. I-AA national championships -- the local talent needs to be utilized. U.Va. and Virginia Tech will still get their share of players from Hampton Roads, but if ODU can keep a solid stream of I-AA-caliber players coming to campus and playing, the Monarchs should be contenders sooner rather than later.
Not bad for a basketball school.
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