2018 NSD – December Signing Day

The first part of National Signing Day is more or less complete. There were no real surprises on this day, and that is generally a good thing. North Texas did try to flip a couple of commits from other CUSA schools and failed, and Illinois tried to flip Kevyon ‘KD’ Davis late in the game. He stayed committed to North Texas.

That is the type of win that this staff can build on. There has been discussion and concern about Seth Littrell’s ability to win those battles. This class has some direct wins over lower-level P5s and G5 peers like La Tech. This is important to note as Tech just agreed to a home-and-home series with SMU beginning in 2020. Tech already visits the Metroplex biannually and is looking to increase their time in DFW with a home-and-home with SMU.

Let’s look at Littrell’s stated goals and compare them so far:

OL: “Big area for us, even if we get a grad-transfer or a JC kid”
QB: “You have to get quarterbacks.”
RB / WR: “Numbers are good at RB, but we will have to get one more. We need at least two WRs”
Defense: “linebackers are a big need for us. We are signing more safeties. Looking for some JC guys (along the DL).”

Well, let us look at the 14 signees:

Jason Bean – QB 6’3” 180 from Mansfield (Lake Ridge HS)
Jaxon Gibbs – S 5’11” 196 from The Colony (The Colony HS)
Kevyon “KD” Davis – LB 5’11” 200 out of Ennis (Ennis HS)
Reggie Williams – S 5’10 180 from Grand Prairie (Grand Prairie HS)
DeAndre Torrey – RB – 5’7” 189 from Gautier, MS (Gulf Coast JC)

The above are all three-star rated athletes by 247 Sports, and will get the most attention for that reason. Jason Bean is listed as a Pro-Style QB but he has wheels in his highlight film. He’s tall, and that is generally good for the position although not necessary if you are a tough guy like Mason Fine. The trio of Jaxon Gibbs, Kevyon Davis, and Reggie Williams had fans thinking of a trio of freshman safeties to play along side current starter Khairi Muhammad. Davis mentioned he was told he was eyed as an outside LB.

Wherever he plays, the versatility is what is attractive about him. Last year’s freshman Tyreke Davis played LB and Safety in HS and spent time as the Nick in relief of Ashton Preston. Expect both Davis kids to bring versatility and speed to Reffett’s group.

Gibbs and Williams are more obviously built like DBs, and will look to build on the new tradition of quality safety play at North Texas — Marcus Trice, Lairamie Lee, KiShawn McClain, and now Khairi Muhammad.

DeAndre Torrey is slight of build but makes big plays to make up for it. He amassed 1200+ yards this season and will be a nice addition to a quality stable of backs. Nic Smith and Evan Johnson are the obvious front-runners to fill the top two spots in the depth chart but Torrey should push them to improve or take their spots outright. This is by design.

Jordan Hunt – LB 6’2” 215 from Wylie (Wylie HS)
Larry Nixon III – LB 6’0” 210 from North Richland Hills (Richland HS)
Josh Sa’afi – LB – 6’3” 272 from Euless (Mt. San Antonio College)
Dayton LeBlanc – DL 6’1” 265 from Lexington, Kentucky (Frederick Douglass HS)
Darrian McMillan – DL 6’2” 251 from Mobile, Alabama (Butler CC)

Jordan Hunt, Larry Nixon III, and Josh Sa’afi are three linebackers with good size. Nixon is listed as 6’0” here and 6’2” on 247. Hunt and Nixon look like they can fill in the MLB spot or be converted into pass rushing stand-up ends. Getting them into the weight room and seeing them on the field will ultimately determine their fate on the field. Sa’afi is listed as a LB on the MGS site, but as a DL on the card. He played both in JUCO and that — again — versatility is intriguing. He’s big — listed as 272 lbs — so the thinking is obviously that he would be a replacement for some of the outgoing DL guys.

Dayton LeBlanc is the son of NT coach Derrick LeBlanc and has the size and quickness that is needed. More importantly, he has the technique. When your dad is the DL coach, you better have the technique.

McMillan is the Josh Wheeler replacement with prototypical edge rusher size.

So NT signed three LBs any way you count things — either with KD Davis as a LB and Sa’afi as a DL or with Davis as a safety and Sa’afi as a LB. The star ratings aren’t amazing, but there is talent here. The defensive line found the replacements for Wheeler and Flusche in at least spots. We will see if they will replace the production.

Cole Brown – OL 6’4” 250 from Conroe (Conroe HS)
Keelan Crosby – S 6’1” 175 from Anna (Anna HS)
Austin Ogunmakin – WR 6’3” 179 Alief (Hastings HS)
Kason Martin – QB 6’3” 200 from Manvel (Manvel HS)

Elsewhere Cole Brown is depth along the OL. NT tried to steal a MTSU commit but did not land one. At least one expected commit did not sign — yet. Dec 20 is the first of the three day window, and there will be another in February (the traditional one) and so this class is not complete by any measure. Littrell has signed some pre-camp guys to fill in the roster as needed in both offseason so expect that to happen as well.

Keelan Crosby is another safety who is a bit on the slight side, and will benefit from time as a redshirt and in the weight program. He played QB and safety in HS and made all-district at both positions. If he does not redshirt he would make an excellent special teams player his first year.

Austin Ogunmakin is the prototypical outside receiver in height and frame. He also will benefit from a college weight program to allow him to beat CUSA DBs and create space for himself.

Finally we have Kason Martin. Among followers of NT recruiting, he is a known quantity. He’s accurate, tall, and a good QB. While he may “only” be a two-star QB this system has a way of transforming those type of guys into Heisman candidates. Mason Fine was “only” a two-star QB and he is now the reigning CUSA Offensive Player of the Year.

Good programs recruit good talent to push the existing guys to be better, and to perhaps take their jobs.

Takeaways

This is a good class and it is not complete. North Texas is going to finish about middle of the pack in the league rankings and that is nothing to get crazy about in either direction. Marshall ‘won’ recruiting a couple of years ago but lost a bunch of those players to transfer, while FAU won recruiting and then won the league with 10-straight wins. It really depends on how your transform the inputs into production.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that the on-field performance is not the only measure of a player’s value to the program. Take MGN favorite Quinn Shanbour for example. He contributed exactly 1 TD pass to the campaign but was an invaluable part of making the NT locker room a better place to be, and making the NT program better as a result.

Winning helps morale, of course, but a good locker room makes it easier to prepare to win.

Seth Littrell and his staff still lost a few notable battles for their preferred targets and that is an improvement area. Still, overall we can be content with this class and — yes — even excited. There is more to come as this cycle is not complete. Stay tuned for February, when we watch this staff navigate the second part of this new normal in recruiting.