Valdosta State’s recruiting focus was on beefing up on the front lines.
The Blazers’ efforts paid off Wednesday as they inked five offensive linemen and six defensive linemen as part of a 33-man recruiting class. VSU also inked eight wide receivers.
“We wanted to address the issues with our offensive and defensive lines and wanted to do a really good job of getting some depth at those positions,” VSU coach David Dean said as the 2012 Division II national champions look to rebound from a 6-4 campaign. “I think that we’ve done that, especially with our offensive line. We were able to sign someone at every single position, center, guard and tackle, which was a big need for us.
“And I think we got some very athletic defensive linemen.
“The biggest thing for us is if you look at the board we have seven seniors on the offensive line next year, so we’re losing a bunch of guys. We just lost our starting five and a couple backups after 2012, so we lost seven that year and then seven this year. It’s been one of those things where we’re getting linemen every other year and we don’t want to do that. We want to continue on, and we had a good signing class last year with linemen and I really think that this class will help us in the future.”
Part of that deep contingent up front are offensive tackles Josh Adams and Valdosta High product Ricky Small, guard Andrew Harrell and centers Marty Barrick from San Diego Mesa Junior College and David May. Defensive linemen hauled in were defensive ends Chris Bahr of Camden County, Charkie Johnson and Geomarey Smith, and defensive tackles Daniel Durden, Tyler Wesson and Orange Coast College’s Adam Kelsie.
Barrick and Kelsie, who had 11.5 tackles for a loss last year, are two of the five junior college players the Blazers brought in to help add immediate help. Also bringing college experience are wide receivers Shane Henderson of Hancock JC and Tye Richardson of Dean College. Henderson caught 74 passes in 2013 for 1,069 yards and seven touchdowns, while Richardson had 349 yards and three touchdowns on 14 receptions.
Joining those two in the Blazers’ deep receiving class is a Division I transfer in former Hamilton County (Fla.) standout Anthony Ingram, who started his college career at South Alabama. Those three will be surrounded by a tall crop of receivers, too, as VSU signed a pair of 6-foot-4 wideouts in Stephen Denmark and Drevon Jones and 6-6 Darrell Myers.
That height, though, wasn’t planned on by the Blazers’ coaching staff.
“Someone called me earlier today and asked if we were specifically going after tall wide receivers, and we weren’t,” Dean said. “They were just the best available guys that we could get, and they just happened to be tall guys.
“Losing the two guys we lost in Reggie (Lewis) and Seantavious (Jones), with Gerald Ford not being able to play, and we have two to three seniors coming up this year, it was a need that we had to fill.
“There are so many good wide receivers in the state of Georgia, especially in this surrounding area. We actually signed a few more than we wanted, but you just can’t turn down those really good athletes.”
But VSU was pleased to find some additional height in the defensive backfield as Lackawanna (Pa.) JC transfer Jonathan Jackson is 6-2, as is Bryant Pickney. Colquitt County’s Tim Sanders, while listed as a 5-9 athlete, is also slated to play in the secondary. He had 45 tackles for the Packers with an interception and a fumble recovery, while also gaining 302 yards offensively on 52 touches.
“We were very fortunate to find some defensive backs with some height, which you really like to play with nowadays with everybody liking to throw the jump balls,” Dean added.
Sanders is part of a five-man local class that includes Lowndes teammates Jerome Daniels at running back, Dante Robinson at linebacker, VHS’ Small and Thomas County Central linebacker Malcolm McClenton. Daniels rushed for 476 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Robinson made 30 tackles including five for a loss. McClenton, who has been the Yellow Jackets’ top wide receiver for the past three years, had a smooth transition to defense as a senior as he had 38 tackles, seven for a loss and intercepted three passes.
“I talked to coach Shaver before one of the games, and we were always interested in Malcolm because I've known him for such a long time. He told me, 'Coach I'm really surprised with how well he is playing defensively and that may not be his best position,’” Dean said, while adding that recruiting south Georgia is paramount to the Blazers’ success. “When he told me that, that kind of put the radar up, and I really started watching him. So I credit coach Shaver for recognizing that and that's really what turned us to putting on defense is how well he played after they moved him over there.
“They understand what south Georgia football is all about. All the programs that are around this area are all well-coached. They come from good programs, they know how to win and they have great work ethic when they come in, and that's why we want to recruit those type guys.
"But when you get those guys, they understand your program. They understand the weather in south Georgia and the preparation leading up. It really, really helps.”
Valdosta State’s recruiting focus was on beefing up on the front lines.
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After four years of unparalleled success running cross-country at Valwood, Smoot will continue running competitively next season at the University of Tampa.
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Others will have to wait and see what continues to take shape come Friday when teams can begin fall practice, and especially Aug. 1 when teams can suit up in pads for the first time, such as can Valdosta win its record 24th state title, or can Lowndes capture its fourth state championship under Randy McPherson, or can Valwood and coach Ashley Henderson play in its third straight GISA state championship game?
As we start to find out the answers to those questions in just a few short weeks — the regular season is just 31 days away — there should be a few more milestones for area coaches to mark 2014 right along with the Generals getting back on the gridiron.
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