Stetson Football signs first class of recruits

For the first time in more than 50 years, football signing day was more than just the first Wednesday of February on the Stetson University campus.

With the Hatters scheduled to begin play in the Pioneer Football League in 2013, Stetson head coach Roger Hughes and his Director of Football Operations, Nolan Behrns, have been burning the candle at both ends for several months to bring in the first class of football signees.

The long hours of film study and the thousands of miles of travel started to pay dividends with more than 40 players submitting their National Letters of Intent (NLI) via fax throughout the day on Wednesday. Because Stetson football will be non-scholarship, there was no offer of athletic aid made to any of the more than 100 players who were mailed NLIs, so no names of the signees can be announced under NCAA rules.

Once the future Hatters have been officially admitted to school, and have put down a deposit on their first semester of tuition, they can then be recognized as having signed with Stetson.

“I think this is the end of the first wave of signings,” Hughes said. “We are probably going to have a second wave of signings over the next several days and weeks. Most kids have dreams to play at the highest level they can but, the reality is there are only so many scholarships to go around.

“Some students may not have had Stetson as the number one choice from an athletic standpoint, but they may give us another chance now. The fact that we are great academic school makes us a great place to fall into, especially for Florida residents.”

Hughes said his day has been spent fielding calls from coaches and players, primarily in the state of Florida, who thought they were going to get offers elsewhere.

“Our phones a been ringing off the hook from both coaches and players looking for their second best option,” Hughes said. “We don’t feel the least bit slighted from it because everybody wants to play the highest level they can.”

The Stetson football staff, which includes assistant coach Brian Young, who joined the staff just two weeks ago, has worked hard to get the kids they are recruiting into school and lined up with as many financial aid options as are available.

“Each situation is a little bit different,” Hughes said. “Most the kids we signed have been accepted into school. We wanted the acceptance and the financial aid to pretty much be in place before we sent out letters of intent. There were a few cases where we are still waiting for an answer from admissions, so we are still waiting to work out financial aid.”

In addition to athletic ability, the Stetson staff made it a point to recruit players with high levels of character and commitment.

“We didn’t want to sacrifice anything with regard to character,” Hughes said. “These young men will go a full year without playing a game. We also wanted to make sure we set a good precedent for commitment in the classroom.

“A lot of the kids that we’re able to attract need to be able to develop physically. We need kids who are going to have great character, and are going to have the commitment as well the vision to put in all the hard work now without being able to play a real game for about 16 months.”

The initial list of signees includes 43 players, but that number is expected to grow to at least 60 or 65 before the process ends. The current list of players includes 29 from the state of Florida, but also has players from 10 other states. Some of the players come from familiar recruiting grounds for Hughes, who spent much of his coaching career in the Ivy League.

“I am used to a completely nationwide recruiting, so that is certainly something we can do,” Hughes said. “Not only are we recruiting student-athletes, but we’re also recruiting alumni and trying to get people on board. What we have tried to do is recruit in areas where we have a number of alumni residing.

“We want to get those alumni excited, but we also want these young men, when they graduate, to be able to go back to their roots to work that alumni network from Stetson to hopefully help them get a job.”

The other states represented so far in the first signing class are: California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Virginia.

As far as specifics with regard to the class, obviously the Stetson program is starting from scratch. There are certain numbers of players Hughes wants to have available in each area in order to be able to field a competitive team from day one.

Like every other program in the country, a high priority has been placed on finding offensive and defensive linemen as well as cornerbacks.

“We need to get some more linemen because linemen are hard to get,” Hughes said. “Everybody wants them, especially big kids who can run. We are going to be concentrating on those kinds of players, primarily, as we go forward over the next few weeks to fill out the class.

“We feel like we got a lot of linebackers and safeties. Corners and big defensive lineman are the ones that you always need more of. I would say we feel pretty good about the guys were recruited, we just need more depth. On the defensive line we would like to have eight to 10 kids that we could rotate in all the time.”

On the offensive side, the Hatters signed a number of skill position players – receivers, backs and quarterbacks – but will be looking to add more there as well.

“We got a very good receiver group, and quite a few of them,” Hughes said. “At running back, we got a couple of fullbacks but would like to get a couple more tailbacks that can catch and move around. At quarterback, I think we’re at three right now. We would like to be at five because that position is so important.”

With signing day over, there will be no slowing in the work load the Stetson coaches carry.

“With only a minimal staff right now, we have been humping pretty good to get this class recruited,” Hughes said. “I can’t say enough about what Nolan Behrns has done in the recruiting process – he has been phenomenal. With Brian coming on recently, those two guys have certainly earned all the accolades for the commitments we have.

“But, we can slow down because we have to keep pushing to finish this class.”

Even when the recruiting for this class ends, the recruiting process never really ends.

“We will start moving toward spring recruiting, getting an initial list together for that. Obviously we want to have summer camps and get people in for the next season, but recruiting never stops. Then, we’ll turn around and start planning for the fall.”

The fall, when football will officially return to the Stetson campus, even if it will only be practice for another year.

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