National Signing Day 2012: Evaluating the Gulf South Conference Signees

Bleacher ReportContributor IIIFebruary 3, 2012

National Signing Day 2012: Evaluating the Gulf South Conference Signees

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    National Signing Day 2012 is now officially upon us. Throughout yesterday, senior high school student athletes (mostly those who play football) made their college decisions official.

    Most of the day's attention was focused on uncommitted Division I prospects signing destinations. In addition, the focus was also whether or not committed prospects would make a last-minute switch.

    My focus, however, was on the latest happenings in Division II football; in particular, the Gulf South Conference.

    Often called the Southeastern Conference (SEC) of Division II, the GSC experienced a huge blow last season when six schools (Arkansas Tech, Arkansas Monticello, Southern Arkansas, Harding, Ouachita Baptist and Henderson State) defected to form one-half of the Great American Conference (GAC).

    Those schools were replaced by Shorter College, Union University, Florida Tech and University of New Orleans.

    GSC schools West Florida, Alabama Huntsville and Christian Brothers do not have football programs. Therefore, only five teams competed for the conference championship last season. Next season Shorter College will bring that total to six.

    Florida Tech, West Florida and UNO are currently in the process of adding football programs.

    As usual, a lot of the signees may not have been highly recruited, but that does not mean—as people like to believe—Division II talent is any less impressive. It has produced numerous NFL players over the years.

    Taking a look at all of D II schools signing classes is more than one person can handle. So with that said, let's evaluate how well the GSC teams did during this year's National Signing Day.

Delta State

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    The defending GSC champions had a terrific run in the NCAA Division II Playoffs before losing to eventual champion, Pittsburg State.

    Further adding to their heartbreak was losing head coach Ron Roberts to Southeastern Louisiana of Division I-AA or FCS. In addition, the team lost over 30 seniors to graduation. Included in that bunch were record-setting quarterback Micah Davis, wide receiver Chance Dennis and star defensive back Dominique Davenport.

    Headed into Signing Day, new head coach Jamey Chadwell took on the challenge and responded with a signing class of 28 recruits.

    What DSU Did Well:

    The Statesmen lost seven defensive linemen. All GSC-performer, Mark Hoskins, was a part of that group and will be greatly missed.

    Chadwell made this position a strong point of recruiting emphasis as six defensive linemen were signed. The key signee was Jamison Goins (6-3, 265) out of Gulfport (Miss) High. As a senior, Goins accounted for 124 tackles, 35 tackles-for-losses and 12 sacks. He was selected to play in the North-South All-Star Game.

    Another area that needed attention was the offensive line. Overall, eight were signed. That's the most out of any position in this year's class.

    Although DSU has eight OL returning from last year's team, Chadwell and his staff did a smart thing by adding depth, especially considering three of the returnees will be seniors next season.  

    What DSU Did Not Do Well:

    No matter who the Statesmen signed at quarterback, there is no immediate replacement for what Micah Davis brought to the team. With only four quarterbacks on the current roster, one senior and three redshirt freshmen, Chadwell should have brought in at least two JUCO quarterbacks for playing experience sake.

    Signee Spencer Van Burnt only played one season as a quarterback in the JUCO ranks, which may be a gamble if he wins the backup job and starter Kevin Vye gets injured.

    The Statesmen had only nine wide receivers on last year's roster. Five of those receivers were seniors, and three will be seniors next season. So it was surprising that only three were signed. Perhaps Chadwell and his staff will add more later or wait until next year's Signing Day.

    Why so many running backs?

    Sure DSU will be losing four to graduation next season, but will still have six remaining on the roster. Adding four additional running backs to that group is a bit much for a team that typically passes the ball more often than it runs it. This may mean Chadwell plans on changing on the offense or somebody is moving over to wide receiver.

    There are currently two tight ends (one is a senior), on the DSU roster. Yet they managed to sign only one who happens to be a freshman. More focus should have been placed on beefing up this position.

West Alabama

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    It is safe to say UWA is no longer the doormat of the Gulf South Conference. In fact, they came extremely close to not only winning the GSC, but earning a top seed in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

    "Respect the Grind" has become the team's motto.

    UWA lost several key seniors from last year's playoff team. Yet it appears those players will not be missed much if their replacements step up as expected. Plus, a large portion of the starting lineup on both sides of the ball are returning next season.

    Heading into Signing Day 2012, Coach Will Hall and his staff's main concern was adding depth to an already extremely talent roster. A recruiting class of 49 says Coach Hall and his staff more than achieved that goal.

    It is highly unlikely, however, everybody signed will actually suit up for the Tigers. For the past two seasons, UWA has had some recruits who did not meet admission requirements. 

    What UWA Did Well:

    The running back, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, defensive back and secondary positions all needed depth. That was achieved in this year's recruiting class.

    Matthew Willis is an awesome running back. He will likely conclude his career as the best ever to play for UWA (no offense to Johnny Shepherd).

    However, the coaching staff has to cut down on his amount of carries from last season. The crop of running backs in this year's class will allow them to do so, especially since there are several freshmen.

    Speaking of which, you have to admire the amount of youth in this year's recruiting class. Typically the JUCO players outnumber the homegrown talent who came to UWA as freshmen. The hope now is that majority of the freshmen remain qualified.

    There seems to be a lot of speed guys in this class, which means there are extra options in the return game. Having star receiver Gerald Worsham return kicks last season was dangerous considering how valuable he was the offense. Now it seems the starting running back and receivers will not have to worry about that.

    Dustyn Moseley (the brother of Auburn's Clint Moseley) is one of several steals in this class. Mainly because he seemed destined to sign with a Division I school. Moseley threw for 3,100 yards and 35 touchdowns as a senior at Jackson (Ala.) High School.

    He was also a finalist for 4A Back of the Year. Coach Hall stated in the video above, Moseley really wanted to be a Tiger. If the coaching staff is smart, they should redshirt Moseley, let him learn the offensive system, and transition him into the starting role during the 2015 season. 

    What UWA Did Not Do Well:

    There should have been a JUCO quarterback signed in this year's class. Sure, the Karl Birkenfeld experiment fizzled before it got started, which placed freshman Kyle Caldwell in the starting lineup before he was ready.

    Yet, it worked out for Caldwell.

    He should remain the starter for the next three seasons. Still, having a experienced backup is key. Gary Johnston should receive a position change. So it should not be him unless totally necessary. Signee Ridge Turner can play the position, but he is a better fit at fulfilling multiple roles on offense as opposed to just one.

    Jordan Ikner has a strong leg. So pulling double duty as a kicker and punter is something he can handle. However, an extra kicker should have been recruited. Kyle Caldwell handled kicking duties in high school. So perhaps he will be the emergency kicker.

    Or the coaching staff could look toward the newly established UWA soccer team, and borrow a player if needed. Just saying.


Valdosta State

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    Simply put: Valdosta was not a good team last season. Their 4-0 start and 6-4 finish says otherwise, but upon careful evaluation, only one of their victories was a dominant performance, and two were the result of opponent miscues.

    Valdosta also had to depend heavily on their running game and pass defense. Ironically, their pass offense and run defense was one of the worst in the GSC last season.

    That is rare from a winning team like Valdosta. David Dean will work hard to make sure the team plays much better next season.

    What VSU Did Well:

    Leading rushers David Bailey and Theseus Jackson return next season. Their numbers were not particularly great; however, they kept the Blazer offense moving. Without the duo's contribution, VSU would have severely struggled.

    Next season will be their last. So, Coach Dean needed some youth in this year's recruiting class, which he received. Signee Juwan Johnson will be the guy to watch out for. He rushed for 1, 049 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.

    VSU has mostly junior and senior linebackers and defensive backs, as well as junior receivers headed into next season. Therefore, they planned ahead.

    VSU signed seven freshmen linebackers, five freshmen defensive backs and five freshmen receivers. Smart move. Adding this many will allow the Blazers to both add depth and redshirt a few for the future.

    Until then, Chris Pope and Ryan Smith are the team's defensive leaders. Receiver Seantavious Jones should have a decent season, provided the quarterback play is better next season.

    What VSU Did Not Do Well:

    The Blazers obviously plan to sign a lot of freshmen defensive linemen in 2013 because they did not do so this year. In fact, they only signed one freshmen.

    The other defensive line signee was from the JUCO ranks. That means majority of the defensive line will be seniors during the 2013 season. Only two—three if you count recent signee Milton Lamar—will be underclassmen.

    Fellow Georgia and out-of-state Division II schools killed the Blazers in recruiting, especially Miles College (Ala.). The Golden Bears signed 13 from Georgia, including four defensive linemen. They also lost out on defensive tackles Garrius Hudson and Jed Nwankwo to Alabama State and West Georgia, respectively.

North Alabama

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    No offense to Terry Bowden and his supporters, but he was ruining the North Alabama football program. True, the team continued it's winning tradition during his tenure. However, a roster built mainly on former Division I talent and less about high school talent was never going to work.

    So welcome back to coaching, Bobby Wallace.

    UNA is attempting to make a move to Division I. Therefore, it was only right that Coach Wallace would be the one who will lead them there.

    After all, he brought the school three championships.

    Coach Wallace has already restored respect back into the program by signing 37 high school student-athletes yesterday. Only ten members of their recruiting class were transfers. Two out of that group, Dalton Williams (Stephen F. Austin) and Melvin Harris (Ole Miss), are from Division I schools. 

    What UNA Did Well:

    Obviously signing 37 recruits from the high school ranks is very important. 

    1. It is a total change from the way Terry Bowden recruited.

    2. It allows UNA to have homegrown talent and build team chemistry better, which has been a recurring problem.

    3. It helps with the possible D I move. The transition will be very tough. So, they need players who have been in the system to give UNA a smoother journey. Talented transfers are great, but one-to-two year rental players who will more than likely start is not ideal. This only results in constant new starters, who may or may not produce positive results right away.

    Coach Wallace stated he and the coaching staff got numerous members of their recruiting class to make last-minute switches. That is a sign of a great coaching staff.

    Nearly every recruit was from the state of Alabama, especially Florence and nearby areas.

    They signed Brian Barnett of Wenonah (Ala.) High School. Sadly, athletes from Birmingham City Schools signing with Division II schools like UNA has become rare in recent years. They often sign with Historically Black College and Universities (i.e Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Miles College, Concordia and Stillman).

    Jacksonville State is often a favorite as well. It was only one player, but that was good enough. Kudos to Coach Wallace and his staff.

    UNA finally brought Justin Rogers back to Alabama. Rogers was way too talented to leave this state when he signed with Nebraska in 2008. The Lions will be his fourth team in four years. Nevertheless, it is good to see him conclude his career at an Alabama school. 

    What UNA Did Not Do Well:

    Coach Wallace and his staff pretty much got what they needed. They lost a lot of seniors, but got some decent replacements. However, there may be a depth issue at a few positions.

West Georgia

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    How about a standing ovation for Daryl Dickey and his West Georgia Wolves. They raised a lot of eyebrows in 2011.

    UWG had been every team's favorite opponent if they wanted an easy win. Imagine Valdosta and Delta State's surprise when they walked away with losses. DSU was the No. 1 ranked team in Division II football when the Wolves defeated them.

    Fans of West Alabama football remember the UWG and DSU game as the one in which they would have received their first outright conference championship in over 30 years. DSU, however, was victorious against the Tigers just weeks prior.

    Quarterback Emmanuel Taylor was a huge pickup for the Wolves last season. He was a major reason why they finished 6-4. Taylor kept them in a lot of games.

    Denarius Appling, Jenoris Darby, Arkeem French and Will Jones also played key roles in the team's resurgence.

    The recruiting class of 2012 was important for UWG because they have to replace Darby, French and Jones. In addition, Emmanuel Taylor has only one year of eligibility left. 

    What UWG Did Well:

    Florida A&M transfer Austin Trainor is a huge pickup. Behind Taylor is a host of young quarterbacks. Trainor's experience will certainly help.

    Now it is up to Coach Dickey and his staff to decide whether to redshirt and preserve him for two seasons or have him as the starter for only one season. He will not see the field in 2012 unless Taylor is gets injured.

    UWG lost five linebackers, including Will Jones, to graduation. They replaced that group with six freshmen. Hunter Knight, Stephon Mosley, Gabe Freeman and Terrell Brownridge are tackling machines. They have a total of 727 combined tackles between them. Brownridge holds the Sprayberry (GA) High School record for most tackles in a career (322).

    In addition, the Wolves also return Gulf South Conference Defensive Freshman of the Year, Teddy Lawrence.

    Their are a lot of young receivers on the roster, so this was not a need position. Regardless, Coach Dickey was obviously building for the future by signing five freshmen receivers. They often pass the ball a lot.

    So if nothing else, he can redshirt all of them and have a solid core to work with two seasons from now. 

    What UWG Did Not Do Well:

    Orlando Howard was their only signee at running back. After losing Yusef Holloway and James Kennebrew, you expected UWG to go after depth at the running back position. Plus the Wolves like to use two or three running backs in their offense. It should be interesting to see what they do.

    They should have signed a JUCO quarterback, which would allow Trainor to be redshirted next season.

Shorter College

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    Shorter College is not an unfamilar foe to Gulf South Conference teams. They, like West Georgia, are often seen as an easy victory.

    Interestingly enough, SC is not bad team at all. Head Coach Phil Jones led the team to four winning seasons in the program's first six years, including one conference championship and a berth in the NAIA Football Championship Series.

    They are also coming off a 6-4 season in which they were blown out only once. Their other three losses came as a result of some very close and well-played games.

    The problem for SC in transitioning into the GSC is they have not proven they can handle Division II competition. As a new full-time member, achieving victories will not be an easy task, especially in football.

    SC signed only 14 players (nine of which were defensive players) during Signing Day 2012. However, evaluating their class is way different than the other five GSC schools. So the Eagles will not receive a detailed one.

    Coach Jones has stated his team is still a work in progress. Therefore, SC is attempting to recruit and bring in more players to add depth.

    Jones and his staff has focused their recruiting so far on the defensive side of the ball and replacing all four starters on the offensive line. They have signed three offensive linemen thus far.

    Signee Hayden Vaughn (6-4) of Armuchee High School in Rome, Georgia will be the tallest receiver in school history.