National Signing Day 2012: Depth Chart Projections for West Alabama
West Alabama head football coach Will Hall once stated, "I will build this program with athletes from Mississippi junior colleges and the Alabama high school ranks."
After just one season as head coach, Hall's plan seems to be a huge success in the making. The Tigers struck gold when they signed Matt Willis, Otha Foster and Andy Nations from the junior college ranks in 2011. In addition, Hall landed the eventual starter at quarterback, Kyle Caldwell, from Dadeville (Ala.) High School.
Those four players played a huge role in leading UWA to their second playoff appearance in three years.
After months of being recruited by colleges and universities from all around the United States, numerous high school senior student athletes will sign a letter of intent tomorrow and continue their football journey.
Hall's 2012 recruiting class is shaping up to be even better than his first. So far, 15 junior college athletes and one Division I transfer have signed with the Tigers.
The class will grow even larger with the addition of student-athletes from the high school ranks and possibly more transfers.
After losing several key players from last season, Hall is likely hoping to not only replace the talent he lost but add much-needed depth as well.
Here is a projection of what the Tigers' roster should look like after National Signing Day 2012.
Who Should Start: Kyle Caldwell was supposed to redshirt in 2011 and take over starting duties during the 2013 season. However, the freshman was thrown in the fire early due to a season-ending injury to Gary Johnston in the third week of the season.
Initially, the coaching staff decided to split the quarterback duties between Caldwell and JUCO transfer Karl Birkenfeld. Caldwell eventually outperformed the more experienced Birkenfeld, thus claiming sole possession of the starting job.
Although his youth and inexperience was evident, Caldwell played at times like a seasoned veteran. He also proved to be more of a passer than Johnston.
Caldwell finished the season with 1,499 passing yards and 12 touchdowns. He also totaled 388 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Considering the fact that the coaching staff began relying heavily on the running game, those are impressive numbers for a freshman quarterback.
If he cuts down on the turnovers, Caldwell will become a legend at UWA.
Who Will Start: Coming into the 2011 season, there were a lot of questions surrounding the quarterback position. How do you replace Deon Williams?
Redshirt junior Gary Johnston was the obvious answer, due to being the only quarterback on the roster with game experience.
While Johnston was an exciting option, he lacked the typical arm strength a collegiate quarterback should possess.
Prior to his season ending injury in Week 3, Johnston showcased he could run but left a lot unanswered questions about his passing ability.
Most UWA fans will point out his 217-passing-yard, three-touchdown performance against Tarleton State in Week 2 as a example. However, if you take away a 70-yard touchdown play, he only passed for 147 yards.
A quarterback who had 44 carries in two games and was the leading rusher is not good, especially if you have the caliber of running backs UWA possesses.
Nevertheless, things may be different in 2012. Johnston is coming off a serious knee injury, which means he will be forced to stay in the pocket and pass more.
Who Should Start: Matthew Willis was expected to be a part of a three-man wrecking crew that also featured "T-Ray" Mitchell and Don Smith. It took Mitchell one season to establish as the star of the group. It took Willis one game to take the spotlight and the starting job away from him.
That game was against Tarleton State in Week 2. Willis only had 99 rushing yards on 16 carries, but he won the game for UWA. During their final drive, Coach Hall made the TSU defense look silly by calling the same rushing play call over and over. Each time Willis responded by gaining big yardage; eventually scoring the game winning touchdown.
Willis finished the season with the UWA single-season record for rushing yards with 1,606 and touchdowns with 19.
He was also named to the Don Hansen All-Super Region Two Team, and was a honorable mention to the 2011 D2Football.com All-America Team.
Who Will Start: Matthew Willis is the obvious starter. However, the coaching staff will likely cut down on his amount of carries (302) this season to prevent injury.
The real question is: Who will be his back-up?
Don Smith was a senior last season. Rumors have it that "T-Ray" Mitchell is mulling over transfer options, but may stay around and fight for playing time.
Recent junior-college transfers Danny Hobbs (Copiah-Lincoln CC) and Daryl Bourne (Pear River CC) will be in the mix as well.
Expect Coach Hall to sign at least two high school running backs tomorrow
Who Should Start: Coach Hall is faced with a difficult task at this position. Can Gerald Worsham and Kendrick May be replaced? We shall see.
UWA has options. Curt Amacker is the only receiver on the current roster who caught a pass last season. Therefore, he'll likely have a bigger role on the team next season.
Although he did not catch any passes, Marcus Brown started several games last season but is no longer listed as still being enrolled at UWA.
Malik Lofton, Jonathan Ducksworth and Reggie Hall join the team from the JUCO ranks. There goes more experience.
Blake Pate, John Williamson, and Caleb Lewis have spent time in the UWA system. Pate will be a senior next season, while Williamson and Lewis will be sophomores.
Former Miami Hurricane Thearon Collier transferred to UWA last fall. His status with officially joining the team is up in the air at the moment.
Who Will Start: UWA runs the spread offense. Therefore, they typically use a four wide receiver set. Curt Amacker should automically qualify as one starter based off experience. Blake Pate is expected to be another. If Marcus Brown is indeed still with the team, he makes three. After that, everything depends on what happens in spring and fall training.
Expect UWA to sign several high school receivers as well
Who Should Start: Two seasons ago this position seemed to be a important part of the team. Jason Hawkins was a receiving threat. Then Hawkins graduated and it seemed to lose value.
Stacey Graham was named the starter last season after playing offensive guard in the JUCO ranks. Mostly he was used as a blocking tight end, but did catch one pass for 13 yards.
Who Will Start: It all depends on what UWA attempts to do. If they want the tight end position to once again focus more on blocking, Graham is the choice.
If they want to the tight end to be more of a receiving threat, LaWayne Morgan is the choice. Or Coach Hall could bring in several options from the JUCO and high school ranks
Who Should Start: Austin Cichon and Chucky Curry have graduated. Their replacements will be found in the group of Chance Sigala, Courtney Easterwood, Billy Ruck, Taylor Burnett, and Southern Mississippi University transfer, Nathaniel Worrell.
Who Will Start: Courtney Easterwood and Chance Sigala received extensive playing time last season, including a few starts due to injury.
Easterwood and Sigala are both primarily offensive guards, but one may slide over to left tackle to replace Chucky Curry.
The other three spots on the line are already filled by returning starters Ethan Corkren, Skeeter Sellers and Andy Nations.
Corkren and Sellers will be juniors next season, while Nations will be a senior.
Depth at the offensive line position has been a issue in the past for UWA. So tomorrow's recruiting class will likely feature a large group of offensive linemen.
Who Should Start: Starters Josh Lewis, James Alexander and Justin Hawkins graduated. As a result, a brand new defensive line will take the field next season.
Renaldo Buck, on the other hand, will return, but was in and out of the starting line-up. The same goes for Thomas Brown and Tirelle Cullen.
Prior to UWA signing JUCO transfers Quan Fletcher, Jerry McNair and Rickey Willis, Buck and Brown appeared to be a lock for the vacant defensive end spots. Cullen and Darion Gabriel were locks to see a lot of playing time as well at that position.
Now it will come down to a heavy competition.
Figuring out the defensive tackle and nose guard position seems less complicated. In addition to losing Alexander and Hawkins, the Tigers also lose Lavanda Powe.
Alfonso Irby and Erik Morgan was among the rotation last season. Outside of JUCO transfer Willie Packer, there is currently nobody standing in the way of them stepping up as starters.
Who Will Start: Renaldo Buck, Alfonso Irby, Erik Morgan, and Thomas Brown is the strongest scenario at this point.
Buck and Brown will be seniors next season. So either Quan Fletcher or Jerry McNair should receive a redshirt. Depth concerns may prevent the coaching staff from doing so, however.
Just like offensive line, defensive line should be a heavy focus in the 2012 group of recruits
UWA Transfer Spotlight: Quan Fletcher
Coming out of Dr. Krop High School in Miami, Florida, Quanthony "Quan" Fletcher was one of the top linebackers in the 2009 recruiting class.
Among the schools he received an offer from were Purdue, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida State, Central Florida, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Marshall and South Florida.
Fletcher eventually chose to sign with Mark Snyder and the Marshall Thundering Herd. He sat out the 2008 season as a redshirt.
Snyder was fired at the conclusion of the 2009 season. Fletcher transferred to Pear River Community College shortly after.
UWA Transfer Spotlight: Willie Packer
As a senior at Moss Point High School in Mississippi, Willie Packer committed to play football at Ole Miss.
In an interview with scout.com, he was quoted as saying, "I want to thank Coach Orgeron, Hughes and just all of those guys for putting me back on the right path with my books. If it were not for them, I would probably have to go to some junior college."
Unfortunately, Ed Orgeron was fired at the conclusion of the 2007 season. Packer, as a result, ended up switching his commitment to Southern Mississippi, but never played a game for the Golden Eagles.
He eventually landed at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
Who Should and Will Start:
Deon Lacey, Gabe Poe and Bryant McGowan make up the most dangerous starting linebacker core in the Gulf-South Conference.
Sadly for all Tiger fans, this will be their last season playing together.
Lacey led UWA in tackles last season (97), tackles for loss (9.0) and sacks (4.0). He was also named GSC Defensive Player of the Year, AP Little All-American, AFCA All-American, D2Football.com Team, and Don Hansen All-Super Region Two Team.
Antonio Curry and Ben Brooks will also once again be in the rotation. The duo will no doubt be among the starting linebackers in 2013
Who Should and Will Start:
For the past two seasons, D'Eric Jackson and Shontral Ford have been the starters. Brandon Tisdale has served as the main back-up.
Tisdale was initially one of the starters his freshman year in 2009. He seemed poised to remain in that spot for three more seasons. However, Jackson ended up winning the starting position in 2010.
All three will be seniors next season. Therefore, players like Greg Hill and JUCO transfer Malcolm Butler may receive heavy playing time to give the coaching staff a glimpse of the 2013 season.
UWA may also bring in several defensive backs in the 2012 recruiting class
Who Should and Will Start:
Every National Signing Day comes with a surprise. Whether it is a recruit switching from a school he previously committed to, signing with a school nobody expected or even delaying their announcement for an extended period.
UWA signing Otha Foster last year was indeed surprising. He had originally committed to play football at Ole Miss, but ran into issues and ended up signing with the Tigers a few weeks later.
With Foster manning the strong safety position, Rico Jernighan is the starting free safety. Both had a decent 2011 season. So there is no point in replacing them in the starting lineup.
The concern was figuring out who would be their back-ups after losing Ricky Bell and Brandon Walker. That was answered when UWA signed Georgia State transfer, Fred Barnes and JUCO transfer Robert Jones.
Barnes was introduced to UWA football when GSU was defeated by the Tigers last season. He led the Panthers in tackles during the 2010 season.
Kickers and Punters
At the moment, Jordan Ikner will be replacing Brock Sharp and Ryne Smith as the Tigers' kicker next season. He may also handle punting duties.
That mostly depends on if UWA signs another kicker during signing day
For the past couple of years UWA has featured an offensive player who plays multiple positions. Terry Allen excelled in that role from 2007-09, and Wes Mounger took over afterwards.
Next season that person should be recent signee, Ridge Turner.
Turner is listed as being recruited to UWA as a cornerback. However, he will only remain there if depth becomes an issue.
Turner played quarterback at South Plaquemines High School in Louisiana, but he did way more than that.
As a junior he set the Louisiana season record for total offense with 5, 544 yards and 69 touchdowns. He completed 219-298 passes for 3, 726 yards and 43 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Turner also ran for 1, 818 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Turner concluded his high school career with 9, 280 passing yards, 3, 471 rushing yards, and 170 total touchdowns.
After graduating from South Plaquemines, Turner signed with Northwestern State. He played two seasons at NSU, but did not receive much playing time.