A new era in American Athletic Conference football dawns on July 1 when the league experiences a major turnover in members.
The decision last summer by three of the AAC’s major football programs — Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida — to depart for membership in the Big 12 Conference had league officials searching for replacements that could continue its gridiron success. Those three programs have won seven of the 10 AAC football titles since the league was established in 2013.
AAC officials moved quickly to fill those voids, announcing last June that Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, Alabama-Birmingham and Texas-San Antonio would come aboard for the 2023-24 academic year. The move brings the football-playing members of the conference to 14 and puts the AAC into some of the biggest media markets in the nation.
And for football, it also adds some up-and-coming coaches, players and programs to the league’s strong group of holdovers: East Carolina, Memphis, Navy, Southern Methodist, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa and South Florida.
North Texas, Rice, UTSA and UAB all appeared in bowl games this year, and the Roadrunners finished ranked No. 25 in the final college football playoff poll. USTA followed that success by signing the top-rated class among the new-look AAC teams during the early period, landing at No. 54 in the rankings compiled by 247Sports.com.
Of course, those rankings are subject to change between now and the traditional signing period in February as schools pursue the remaining unsigned prep prospects, junior college graduates and the mass of talent in the NCAA Transfer Portal.
While we wait for those transactions to occur, here’s a brief look at the early signing period highlights for all 14 of the AAC’s football playing programs.
National rankings: No. 106 by On3.com, No 149 by 247Sports.com.
By the numbers: New 49er head coach Biff Poggi tapped into his old stomping grounds to sign 29 players during the early period. … Poggi, who got his career started at Saint Francis Academy in Baltimore, MD, signed 13 former players or current seniors from that school. … Poggi is bringing in 12 transfer portal players from FBS programs and another five from lower division teams. … He also signed nine high school seniors and three others from junior college programs. … The class features nine offensive linemen, a quarterback, two wide receivers, a tight end, a running back, seven defensive linemen, two edge rushers, four defensive backs, a linebacker and a punter. … The 49ers had three players decommit from the class, including local quarterback Sean Boyle (signed with West Virginia) and 3-star tight end Ezekia Wimbush (Virginia Tech commit). … Charlotte will be among the new members of the AAC in 2023.
Names to remember: Quarterback Carson Black began his prep career at the same Sun Valley High program in North Carolina that produced North Carolina and NFL quarterback Sam Howell. Black transferred to Nations Ford High in Fort Mill, SC, for his final three seasons, throwing for more than 4,500 yards and 49 touchdowns. He received scholarship offers from schools such as Appalachian State, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, South Carolina and Virginia Tech before deciding to stay close to home and play for Charlotte. Defensive lineman Osita Ekwonu returns home to Charlotte after four seasons at Notre Dame where he appeared in 15 games. The 6-1, 235-pounder was a 4-star prospect coming out of Providence Day School in Charlotte and will now try to live up to that rating with the 49ers.
Portal power: Wow! I’m not sure any team in the nation utilized the transfer portal as much as Charlotte. The 49ers signed 17 players from the portal, including 12 from FBS programs. Most notable are the aforementioned Ekwonu from Notre Dame, wide receiver Jaden Bradley from Pitt, offensive lineman Austin Fontaine from Maryland and offensive lineman Jonathan Bass from Georgia State. Bradley, a 6-4, 190-pounder, caught 19 passes for 259 yards while appearing in 18 games for the Panthers the last two seasons. Fontaine was an all-purpose guy who played offensive line, defensive line and tight end during five seasons with the Terps. He appeared in 35 games during that span. Bass also played five seasons at Georgia State where he started 22 straight games at one point.
Still waiting on: Jai’Lun Hampton is a massive 6-9, 306-pound offensive tackle at Iowa Western Community College, who received a flurry of scholarship offers in early December from the likes of East Carolina, Eastern Michigan, Old Dominion, and Texas State among others. Charlotte got in the game when Hampton took his only official visit to date to evaluate the 49ers on Dec. 16. He gave Charlotte his verbal commitment on Christmas day via a Twitter post, but didn’t sign during the early period.
Coach said: “A really exciting day for us. Lots of long days getting to today. I’m really pleased with how the staff has recruited. The response we’ve received has been amazing. I will say this: coaches don’t win games, players do, so you’ve got to have players. We want to build our football team around stopping the run on defense, running the football on offense and great special teams. I’m really very, very proud of the staff and and I’m very proud of the kids that have decided to come be with us.” — Charlotte head coach Biff Poggi
National rankings: No. 77 by 247Sportscom, No. 82 by Rivals.com, No. 78 by On3.com.
By the numbers: The Birmingham Bowl champion Pirates signed 18 players during the early period, 15 of them are high school seniors and three are from the transfer portal. … The class features a quarterback, a running back, three receivers, a tight end, two offensive linemen, two defensive linemen, four linebackers, and four defensive backs. … ECU signed more than half of its class from the states of Georgia (7) and South Carolina (6). … The Pirates inked three players from North Carolina and two from Florida to round out the class. … Five prospects who originally committed to ECU backed off their pledges with the most notable being Independence Community College safety Tyrik McDaniel. … Rated the No. 2 JUCO safety by 247Sports.com, McDaniel committed to ECU on Nov. 24, but after an official visit to Indiana on Dec. 9 opted to join the Hoosiers. … Five of the Pirate signees are expected to enroll in January.
Names to remember: Javious Bond was a signing day bonus for the Pirates. A fast, versatile running back from Gray, GA, he was originally committed to AAC rival Memphis before a last-second change-of-heart led him to ECU. Bonds will add depth at running back, provide receiving skills out of the backfield and big-play ability in the return game. The Pirates also added another major playmaker in receiver Nate Branch from Hopkins, SC. Branch is a slot receiver with great speed and agility who earned Lower State 3-A Offensive Player of the Year honors as a senior. On defense, linebacker Dwight Johnson Jr. is a headhunter from Hampton, GA, where he was named Region 4-AAAAA Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
Portal power: The Pirates picked up some solid talent from the transfer portal, but their portal losses were more significant. Starting safety Jireh Wilson, part-time corner starter Damel Hickman, three-year offensive line starter Avery Jones, and part-time starting safety Shaun Dourseau were among the eight players who have entered the portal. Wilson’s departure is the biggest blow to the Pirates. He’s been a three-year secondary starter and racked up 190 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, six sacks and four interceptions. Helping to offset the secondary losses are the additions of safety Dontavius Nash and cornerback Tymir Brown, who started their college careers at North Carolina. Immediate help at linebacker will come from South Carolina State transfer B.J. Davis and North Carolina A&T transfer Tyquan King.
Still waiting on: ECU is expected to be active in the transfer portal and the junior college ranks in the month leading up to the traditional signing period in February. One prospect on the Pirates’ radar is Tyler Community College cornerback Davon Martin. Martin, who signed with Middle Tennessee State out of high school, gave a pledge to Utah State in late November. But after an early December offer from ECU, he took an official visit to campus on Dec. 9. On Dec. 28, Martin announced he was re-opening his recruitment and the Pirates loom as the favorite to land him.
Coach said: “I’m pleased with the class we’ve signed. But we’re not quite finished yet. I still think we need to kind of finish the offensive line. We’ll probably look at a couple of other guys there. I could see us taking one or two other skill players on offense. Defensively, I feel like there’s a possibility by the end of the week we should be about set there.” — East Carolina coach Mike Houston
National rankings: No. 80 by 247Sports.com, No. 83 by Rivals.com, No. 75 by On3.com.
By the numbers: Another new AAC team with a new head coach. … Former Texas head coach Tom Herman was hired by FAU in early December after two seasons working as an NFL assistant. … Despite the short time he had to recruit the Class of 2023, Herman still managed to sign 16 players during the early period. … Thirteen of those hail from the fertile recruiting corridor between Orlando and Tampa. … Six are from the Boca Raton area, which is home to FAU. … The class features a quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, two tight ends, three offensive linemen, a linebacker, two safeties, one defensive lineman and two cornerbacks. … Only three are out-of-state recruits, two from Georgia and one from Texas. … The Owls lost three prospects who backed off an initial verbal commitment, the biggest being defensive lineman Stantavious Smith from Albany, GA, who re-opened his recruitment on Dec. 19 and signed two days later with South Florida.
Names to remember: Jordan Church (6-4, 325) was a starting offensive lineman for national prep powerhouse IMG Academy. A former Louisville commit, Church could be the future anchor for Florida Atlantic’s blocking corps. Wide receiver Jabari Smith was a big-play weapon for Jones High in Orlando. Smith racked up 157 career receptions for 2,354 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Owls snared a replacement for their vacated left tackle spot in 6-5, 320-pound Wallace Unamba from Kilgore Community College. Unamba is a two-time junior college All-American and chose FAU over offers from 15 other Division I schools.
Portal power: The Owls have yet to dip into the transfer portal talent pool, but are expected to seek help there at the quarterback position between now and the traditional signing period in February. Four of FAU’s players have, however, entered the transfer portal to find other schools. Inside linebacker Antarrius Moultrie is the biggest loss among that quartet. Moultrie made 49 tackles in 11 games this season. Also departing for Penn State is first-team Freshman All-American punter, Riley Thompson. Thompson averaged 45.4 yards a punt this season and landed 26 kicks inside the 20-yard line.
Still waiting on: Brandon Chavarria is an interior offensive lineman at Charlotte High in Punta Gorda, FL. The 6-4, 285-pounder made a verbal commitment to FAU back in June after attending camp in Boca Raton. The 3-star blocker wasn’t announced as signing with the Owls during the early period, but they did bring aboard his St. Thomas Aquinas High teammate, running back Germari Sands.
Coach said: “I think when a young man commits to a university, I think it is our responsibility to uphold that commitment. For me, even watching all the commits that were from the previous staff/previous era, it was very apparent that all of these guys could help us win and help us win early. I just wanted to make sure that we were true to our word as a university as they were when they committed.” — Florida Atlantic coach Tom Herman
National rankings: No. 60 by 247Sportscom, No. 57 by Rivals.com, No. 67 by On3.com.
By the numbers: The SERVEPRO First Reponder Bowl winner signed 22 players during the early period, 13 high school seniors and nine transfers. … Four of the transfers are via the portal and five were signed from the junior college ranks. … The class features five offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, four defensive backs, four linebackers, two right ends, a running back and a punter. … The signees hail from Tennessee (5), Georgia (4), Alabama (3), Mississippi (3), Texas (2), Florida (2), New York (1), Oklahoma (1) and Louisiana (1). … Ten of the signees are expected to enroll in January. … The Tigers had 11 players back off verbal commitments to the 2023 class. … Foremost among those was Smyrna, TN, linebacker Arion Carter, a 4-star prospect who committed in July, but reopened his recruitment in November. … Carter took official visits to Alabama and Tennessee before signing with the Vols.
Names to remember: The Tigers secured a pair of 4-star defenders in cornerback MarJayvious Moss from Shreveport, LA, and linebacker Karmelo Overton from Ozark, AR. Moss is rated the nation’s No. 30 cornerback prospect by 247Sports.com and entertained offers from Baylor, Minnesota, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State among others. Overton is No. 8 on 247Sports.com’s rankings of inside linebacker prospects in the 2023 class and had offers from Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee to consider. The Tigers also signed the nation’s No. 4-rated junior college offensive tackle in Chris Morris (6-4, 290) from Hutchinson Community College and the No. 3 JUCO defensive lineman in Derick Hunter Jr. (6-5, 265) from Hinds Community College.
Portal power: Memphis picked up four impressive portal recruits, starting with offensive guard Xavier Hill (6-4, 318), who spent the last three seasons at Louisiana State. Rated the nation’s No. 19 guard prospect out of high school, Hill saw action in six games and made two starts with Tigers in his career. Linebacker Chander Martin led FCS East Tennessee State with 99 tackles while also contributing 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 10 games this season. Versatile running back Blake Watson arrives from Old Dominion after racking up 2,144 career yards rushing and 448 receiving. Finally, Arkansas transfer Reid Bauer averaged 42 yards a punt in 48 games for the Razorbacks. Memphis has had 11 players hit the transfer portal, including Florida State offensive line transfer Ira Henry and 2020 rushing leader Rodrigues Clark.
Still waiting on: Judea Milon (6-3, 295) is rated the No. 6 interior offensive lineman among junior college players. Milon, who played at Tyler Community College this season, was a late commitment to Memphis on Dec. 4, but didn’t sign during the early period. Denham Springs, LA, running back Raydrian McKneely was another late pledge on Dec. 19 but was not announced among the signees by the school on Dec. 21.
Coach said: “Today was a great day for the Memphis football program. We are very excited about the addition of so many student-athletes. We are proud of the men that are joining our family as they will have success on the field, in the classroom and in our great community. The future is very bright!” — Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield
National rankings: No. 119 by 247Sports.com, No. 115 by On3.com, No. 74 by Rivals.com.
By the numbers: Brian Newberry, the team’s defensive coordinator, was promoted to head coach on Dec. 19, replacing well-respected Ken Niumatalolo. … Navy does not officially announce its recruiting class until all players complete their plebe summer. … But based on public reports by players who verified their verbal commitments, the Middies had 35 prospects formalize their commitments during the early signing period. … Another 30 have made verbal pledges to Navy, but have yet to confirm their commitment. … Those that have formalized commitments include two quarterbacks, five running backs, five offensive linemen, one kicker, five defensive ends, two defensive tackles, four linebackers, six defensive backs, three athletes and a long snapper. … Navy’s early commits hail from 18 different states with the most from Texas (5) and Virginia (4). … The Middies have had several prospects decommit from the Class of 2023, most notably 6-4, 295-poud defensive end Zachary Dantzlerward from Purcellville, VA, who wound up signing with Old Dominion.
Names to remember: There are so many it’s hard to pinpoint just one or two, but here goes. Drew Hall from The Cheshire Academy in Connecticut isn’t your typical Navy quarterback. The 6-4, 210-pounder is a pro-style quarterback, which may not have meshed with the triple-option attack Navy has run for years. But that is expected to change under the new coaching staff and Hall could eventually be the quarterback executing that transition. On the defensive side, 6-3, 255-pound end Benjamin Reiland from Lawrenceville, NJ, received FBS offers from Arizona State and Air Force before choosing Navy.
Portal power: The transfer portal won’t likely ever result in Navy adding players to its roster, but the Middies do have three 2022 roster members entering the portal this time around. Most significant of those is starting slotback and No. 2 rusher Maquel Haywood, who ran for 473 yards on 73 carries last year. Haywood was also a key kickoff return man for the Middies.
Still waiting on: As mentioned above, there are approximately 30 players who are listing themselves as verbally committed to Navy, but haven’t fill out official paperwork yet to enter the Academy. One of those prospects is 6-6, 220-pound defensive end Jesse Smith from Spruce Creek High in Port Orange, FL. Smith had a big senior year with 80 tackles and nine sacks. He committed to Navy in July and the new staff is working to keep him aboard.
Coach said: “Obviously, I’ve been on the phone this week with those players and their families, trying to secure those commitments and make them feel good about what’s going on here. Obviously, me being named head coach helped ease the concerns of those players and their families. I wanted them to understand that I have those same fundamental values [as Niumatalolo]. I wanted them to know that the culture piece of things — the way we treat our players and the way we do things — will not change.” — Navy coach Brian Newberry
National rankings: No. 129 by 247Sports.com, No. 156 by On3.com.
By the numbers: Because of the head coaching change activity was slow during the early signing period for North Texas. … The Mean Green hired former Washington State offensive coordinator Eric Morris as its new head coach on Dec. 13, just eight days before the early period began. … The result was only two players signing a national letter of intent with North Texas in the early period. … The signees were a prep wide receiver and a junior college defensive lineman. … Both are graduates of Texas high schools. … The Mean Green had five players decommit amid the coaching change, and all were in-state prospects. … Three signed with other schools during the early period: offensive lineman Darion Reed with Tulane, tight end Matt Wagner with Boise State and cornerback Amarion Atwood with Texas State.
Names to remember: There are really only two at this point. Wide receiver Landon Sides is a homegrown talent who played his prep football at Denton’s Guyer High School. The 6-foot, 180-pounder produced a stellar senior campaign at Guyer, making 49 catches for 1,154 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Mean Green can expect an immediate impact from 6-1, 272-pound defensive tackle Marcus Moore, who was signed out of Coffeyville Community College. Moore originally signed with Louisiana-Monroe out of The Colony High in Texas and appeared in seven games there as a true freshman in 2020. But he departed for Coffeyville after one season and made 33 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2022. Moore was offered scholarships by Arizona State, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech, Old Dominion and Western Kentucky among others.
Portal power: There have only been losses to the portal so far for North Texas. Four players have entered the portal to date, led by 29-year-old quarterback Austin Aune. A former second-round baseball draft pick of the New York Yankees, Aune returned to the gridiron after six minor league seasons with impressive results. He became the Mean Green starter midway through the 2021 season and passed for 5,538 yards and 42 touchdowns in 27 games during that span. Aune is still looking for a place to play his final college season. Tight end Jake Roberts (28 catches, 294 yards, 3 TDs in 2022), defensive lineman Dayton LeBlanc (50 tackles in 32 games) and tight end Asher Alberding (35 games, 2 catches) are others in the portal.
Still waiting on: The Mean Green will most definitely be active in pursuing portal and junior college transfers between now and the traditional signing day in February. But two committed prospects who remain unsigned are likely to be added to the class at some point. Linebacker Dylan Brown-Turner from South Oak Cliff High in Dallas and running back Jahbari Kuykendall from Houston’s Westside High have both said publicly they are still committed to North Texas, but will take the time between now and February to get to know the new coaching staff before making things official.
Coach said: “We are not broken. I have a vision and a plan to take us to the top. Denton is a football gold mine. We can fill the stadium.” — North Texas coach Eric Morris
National rankings: No. 80 by 247Sports.com, No 89 by Rivals.com, No. 91 by On3.com.
By the numbers: An original member of the old Southwest Conference, Rice joins the AAC in 2023 from Conference USA, where it’s been a member since 2006. … If the rankings hold, this will be Rice’s highest rating class in history. … The Owls signed 24 players, including 10 who are expected to enroll in January. … The group consists of 18 high school players, five grad transfers and one junior college transfer. … Sixteen of the prospects are from the state of Texas, and eight played their high school football for Houston-area programs. … Two other signees each are from Pennsylvania and Tennessee, while there are one each from California, Missouri, New Jersey and Ohio. … By position, Rice signed six offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, three tight ends, three wide receivers, two quarterbacks, two linebackers, two cornerbacks, a running back and a safety. … The Owls only had one player decommit during the cycle in safety Jamarie Wiggins, a 3-star prospect who backed off his pledge with Rice in August and signed with Sam Houston State.
Names to remember: Texas high school products Ty Morris and Joseph Mutombo are among the top 10 highest rated recruits to ever sign with Rice. Morris is a linebacker who was an all-district pick at Dekaney High in Houston as a senior when he made 149 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and a sack. The 6-5, 240-pound Mutombo played for Kellen High in Fort Worth, where he made 200 career tackles and 20 sacks. Of course, the class headliner is former national high school player of the year, quarterback J.T. Daniels, who has opted to play his final year of college football with the Owls.
Portal power: Rice landed arguably one of the biggest portal prizes of the cycle when quarterback J.T. Daniels opted for the Owls on the eve of the early signing period. Daniels, a former 5-star prospect, has already amassed 6,947 yards and 45 touchdowns passing in a college career that’s been spread out over three schools, Southern Cal, Georgia and West Virginia. He should step right in as Rice’s starter in his final season of college eligibility. The Owls also added some protection for Daniels in 6-7, 300-pound offensive tackle Brant Banks, who played in 26 games over the last four seasons at Nebraska, as well as two receiving targets in tight ends Ethan Powell and Matt Hall. Powell (6-5, 215) was team MVP after catching 48 passes for 879 yards and five touchdowns this year at NCAA Division III Southwestern University, while Hall (6-3, 225) was an all-league pick at NCAA Division II Truman State. On the defensive side, Rice signed former Colgate defensive end Coleman Coco, who racked up 92 career tackles, 18 tackles for loss and and nine sacks in 30 games with the FCS Raiders.
Still waiting on: Troy Leigber from Laguna Hills High in California wasn’t on anyone’s recruiting radar after missing much of his junior season with a shoulder injury. But the 6-1, 200-pound running back-safety bounced back to earn Orange County Offensive Player of the Year honors after rushing for a school-record 2,695 yards and scoring 44 touchdowns as a senior. The effort led to December scholarship offers from Air Force, Army, Penn, San Diego and Rice. The Owls, who offered on Dec. 3, would transition Leigber to a safety position.
Coach said: “We believe this class will take us soaring to new heights. It’s the highest-ranked class in Rice history. It includes two of the top four prospects we’ve signed since we’ve been here as a staff and it has (our) highest-rated recruit in the rating era, J.T. Daniels. I think our recruiting staff has done a great job identifying, recruiting, and now signing this class. We’ve got a lot of guys in this class we think could be immediate impact guys. That always excites us when there are guys that can challenge for positions and make you better from an athletic standpoint. All the great things that are happening in our program helped us attract these talented young men and their families and our football team got stronger today because of these recruits.” — Rice coach Mike Bloomgren
National rankings: No. 57 in 247Sports.com, No. 78 in Rivals.com, No. 65 in On3.com, No. 72 by ESPN.com.
By the numbers: The Mustangs signed 25 prospects during the early period, including 18 from the state of Texas, four from Florida, two from California and one from Georgia. … The class consists of a quarterback, two running backs, five wide receivers, a tight end, four offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, three linebackers and four defensive backs. … Ten of the signees arrive via the transfer portal, including four from the University of Miami where current SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee was offensive coordinator in 2000 and 2001. … The Mustangs had six prospects decommit from the 2023 class, the most prominent of which was 4-star wide receiver Cordale Russell. … Russell backed off his pledge to SMU in November 2021 after Sonny Dykes left the Mustangs to become Texas Christian head coach. … Russell then committed to TCU.
Names to remember: Defensive lineman Daemian Wimberly (6-4, 245) from Austin, TX, was pursued by schools such as Arizona State, Baylor, Colorado, TCU, Texas Tech and others before choosing the Mustangs. Wimberley is a powerful athlete who could play on the edge or eventually down inside. Running back L.J. Johnson had a 4-star ranking and was rated among top 10 prospects in Texas before signing with Texas A&M. But after two seasons in College Station, Johnson opted for a change of scenery and chose SMU on Christmas day. He’ll have three years of eligibility left with the Mustangs.
Portal power: SMU secured one of the top collections of talent from the transfer portal. In addition to the previously mentioned Johnson at running back, the Mustangs added another former 4-star running back in Jaylan Knighton, who appeared in 27 games for Miami (12 starts) over the last three years. He ran for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns during that time. Knighton’s former Miami teammates Jordan Miller (defensive line), Elijah Roberts (defensive line) and Key’Shawn Smith (receiver) are also joining him in Dallas. Foremost among the remaining transfers is safety Jonathan McGill from Stanford, where he started all 12 games and made 51 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss this season.
Still waiting on: Local wide receiver Lontrell Turner earned all-district honors as a senior at Duncanville High, where he’s played a prominent role since his freshman season. SMU was the first school to offer the 5-11, 180-pounder back in January 2021. Others such as Arizona, Baylor and Texas Tech have joined the pursuit since then, but Turner remains uncommitted.
National rankings: No. 72 in 247Sports.com, No. 73 in On3.com, No. 68 in Rivals.com.
By the numbers: After being hired in December a year ago and only signing three players during the early period, Temple coach Stan Drayton locked down 25 prospects this time around. … The group includes 21 freshmen, two junior college transfers and three from the transfer portal. … The class has an international flavor with one signee each from Australia (punter Dante Atton), Canada (offensive lineman Diego Barajas), England (tight end Peter Clarke) and the Bahamas (cornerback Kaleb Barnett). … The total includes five offensive linemen and five receivers, a quarterback, three running backs, a tight end, four defensive linemen, three cornerbacks, an outside linebacker, safety and punter. … The Owls have had just one player decommit from this class — 3-star offensive lineman Cole Skinner signed with UCF.
Names to remember: Philadelphia-area products Jordan Montgomery and Tyese Whitaker should help fill immediate areas of need for Temple. Montgomery is a 6-2, 220-pound outside linebacker from Roman Catholic High who chose the Owls over offers from Maryland and Syracuse. The 6-2, 230-pound Whitaker is a linebacker-edge rusher from Northeast High where he made 38 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks as a senior.
Portal power: Temple added three FBS transfers during the early signing period, including two experienced offensive players. Running back E.J. Wilson carried the ball 126 times over three seasons at Florida International for 526 yards and two touchdowns. He was also an exceptional return man, who averaged 39.6 on kickoff returns in 2021. The latter was highlighted by a 100-yard kickoff return against Western Kentucky. Wide receiver Dante Wright arrives from Colorado State where he amassed 120 catches for 1,660 yards and seven touchdowns over three seasons. Defensive lineman Allan Haye Jr. (6-2, 305) also comes north from Miami where he played in two games over the last two years.
Still waiting on: Drayton said on signing day he expects to add “four to six” more prospects to the 2023 recruiting class. Foremost among those are a pair of transfer portal players who have made verbal commitments to the Owls, but didn’t sign last Wednesday. Kamar Wilcoxson is a safety who played in four games over three seasons at Florida. Wilcoxson was a four-star prospect out of high school and drew scholarship offers from major powers such as Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Ohio State and Oklahoma before signing with the Gators. Another safety, Tywan Francis, is a grad transfer from Colorado State. Francis played in 36 games for the Rams, collecting 176 career tackles.
Coach said: “Very excited about what our coaches and all of our supporting staff along with our current players, the sacrifices they made to help put this class together is unbelievable. We feel as though that we had to get quality student athletes both motivated to do great things on and off the field. I said that we’re going to build our culture off the high school kids. Guys that we can kind of bring in and mold them to the culture.” — Temple coach Stan Drayton
National rankings: No. 102 by 247Sports.com, No. 68 by ESPN, No. 69 by On3.com, No. 64 by Rivals.com.
By the numbers: The AAC champion Green Wave signed 24 players in the early period, including 12 from the state of Louisiana. … The class also featured seven from Texas, and one each from Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia and Ohio. … Three of Tulane’s signees were members of the Destrehan (LA) High squad that won the Louisiana Non-Select Division I championship. … The signees include a quarterback, two running backs, a tight end, a wide receiver, five offensive linemen, four linebackers, three JOKER or outside linebackers, six defensive backs and an athlete. … Tulane had seven players who had previously committed back off their pledges, led by Iowa quarterback Jaxon Smolik who decommitted in August and signed with Penn State.
Names to remember: Free safety Kevin Adams III, offensive lineman Landry Cannon and cornerback Jai Eugene Jr. all starred in Destrehan’s state title run. Adams was the MVP of the state championship game, Cannon was an all-district pick and Eugene was the district offensive player of the year at quarterback. Tulane coach Willie Fritz says all three “are college ready.” The Green Wave flipped 6-foot-3, 220-pound edge rusher A.J. Thomas from Indiana just 24 hours before the early signing period. Thomas is rated by 247Sports.com as the nation’s No. 87 edge rusher.
Portal power: Tulane signed five potential starters from the transfer portal. Cornerback A.J. Hampton comes from Northwestern where he appeared in 44 career games and made 19 starts over five seasons. He generated 105 tackles and two interceptions during that time. Linebacker Tyler Grubbs was a three-time All-Conference USA player at Louisiana Tech where he made 244 career tackles and 24 tackles for loss. Safety Darius Swanson was a two-time NCAA Division II All-American at Nebraska-Kearney (190 career tackles, 7 interceptions) and receiver-return man Dontae Fleming comes in from Louisiana where he had 58 catches for 680 yards and six scores in three years. The biggest portal get, however, may be 6-6, 295-pound offensive tackle Cameron Wire, who made 11 starts at LSU last season.
Still waiting on: The Green Wave have filled most of their available roster spots in this class, but local New Orleans defensive back Nick Jacobs is one prospect who committed back in May but didn’t sign last Wednesday. An all-district choice who had five interceptions as a senior, Jacobs still has Tulane pinned as his commitment on his Twitter page.
Coach said: “We’ve got 12 guys from the state of Louisiana. I think that’s the most we’ve signed from the state since I’ve been here. Some of those guys are transfer guys, and some are high school guys. We’re pumped about being able to make some positive inroads here in the state of Louisiana. Something else that is important when you go out is to recruit a class of guys from great programs. We have some state champions on the list, we’ve got guys who played for state championships or made it to the semifinals. So, we have a lot of good program guys who are used to winning.” — Tulane coach Willie Fritz.
National rankings: No. 126 by 247Sports.com; No. 132 by On3.com.
By the numbers: New Tulsa head coach Kevin Wilson had been on the job just 14 days before signing this class. … Signed eight players during the early period. … Prospects hail from three different states, including three from Oklahoma. … Two of the Oklahoma signees played at Tulsa’s Union High School. … The class includes four wide receivers, a running back, a safety, a defensive lineman and an athlete. … Only one of the eight signees is expected to enroll for the spring semester, wide receiver Ashton Schumann. … Two players backed off pledges to Tulsa after former coach Phil Montgomery was let go after the regular season. … 3-star linebacker Ike Esonwune signed with Oklahoma State, while 3-star cornerback Jaylen Moson remains uncommitted.
Names to remember: Running back Braylin Presley was a 4-star prospect when he signed with Oklahoma State out of Bixby, OK. But after playing in seven games with the Cowboys as a freshman he opted to hit the transfer portal. Presley should provide immediate help to Tulsa’s rushing attack as well as its return game. Wide receiver DaMari Smith was one of the fastest sprinters in Arkansas where he was the state 200-meter dash champion as a junior.
Portal power: The Hurricane added a valuable piece to their rushing attack by landing Oklahoma State transfer Braylin Presley. But otherwise, the portal hasn’t been kind to Tulsa. In the wake of the coaching change no fewer than nine players have left the Hurricane for the portal, including the two most experienced quarterbacks in the program, the leading tackler and a starting left tackle. The portal is the most likely place for the Hurricane to fill that immediate need at quarterback.
Still waiting on: The Hurricane would love to add another in-state talent to this class in Broken Arrow offensive lineman Jamison Mejia. The 6-4, 265-pounder had an in-home visit with members of the new coaching staff on Dec. 14, during which they offered him a scholarship. The district offensive lineman of the year also has offers from Louisiana-Monroe, USF and FCS powerhouse South Dakota State.
Coach said: “Since I came aboard, the number one goal from a recruiting standpoint has been to stabilize our current roster as well as the committed recruits. The current staff has continued to do a solid job connecting with these guys. Although I have not had that face-to-face contact with some of these guys, I feel pretty good about this class. … I think we’ve signed what appears to be guys who are strong students, have come from great families with strong values and not only do they value education, but hard work as well.” — Tulsa head coach Kevin Wilson
National rankings: No. 98 by 247Sports.com, No. 85 by On3.com, No. 99 by Rivals.com.
By the numbers: Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer signed 16 players in his first recruiting class as UAB head coach. … The Blazers inked 16 players in the early period. … Eleven of those are high school seniors, three are from the junior college ranks and two others arrive via the transfer portal. … The class consists of five wide receivers, two offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, two linebackers, two defensive backs and an athlete. … The Blazers are projected to lose 21 seniors from this year’s team that beat Miami of Ohio in the HomeTown Lenders Bahamas Bowl. … the signees include six players from Alabama, three from Georgia, two from Mississippi, two from Texas, one from California and one from Florida. … The Blazers only had two players decommit from the class — 3-star California quarterback Jaxon Potter (signed with Washington State) and 3-star Alabama safety Christopher Pearson (Houston).
Names to remember: UAB flipped two in-state defensive line prospects from other FBS schools during the recruiting cycle. Connor Knight (6-3, 285) from Trussville had offers from the likes of Arkansas, Florida State, Houston, Kentucky, Miami, Mississippi, Oregon State and Tennessee before settling on USF last March. But he exited the USF class in June, opening the door for the Blazers to land a powerful interior lineman. Emmanuel Waller (6-4, 250), from Birmingham, was originally headed to Brigham Young. But he, too, backed off that pledge to sign with UAB. They’ll join junior college transfer Jalen Nettles (6-4, 300) to help resupply the Blazers’ blocking corps.
Portal power: The Blazers have picked up wide receiver Malachi Holt-Bennett from Indiana and linebacker James Smyre from Marshall through the transfer portal. Holt-Bennett, the son of former NFL receiver Earl Bennett, caught seven passes for 119 yards and a touchdown in 19 games over the last two seasons with the Hoosiers. Smyre (6-2, 220) didn’t see any action as a freshman at Marshall last season, but as a high school senior was a key contributor as Alabama powerhouse Phenix City Central went 13-1 record and reached the state 7A finals. Three UAB reserves have entered the transfer portal.
Still waiting on: Michael Towner (6-2, 245) has been a dominant defensive lineman at C.F. Vigor High in Mobile for two straight seasons. Towner was considering offers from Coastal Carolina, Memphis, Southern Miss, Louisiana-Monroe, Troy and USF before UAB came on the scene in early August. The Blazers convinced Towner to commit almost immediately, but he was not included on the signing day list released by the school.
Coach said: “It was quite a day for UAB football. I don’t want to talk in hyperbole, but I can’t imagine there has ever been this big of a signing class this early on, because it hasn’t been around for that long. I think we are putting together the best class that this school has ever seen. We have addressed both immediate issues to create competition at key positions, but mainly keeping a bigger eye on building a foundation that is an absolute stone with the freshman class.” — UAB coach Trent Dilfer
National rankings: No. 87 by 274Sports.com, No. 95 by Rivals.com, No. 93 by On3.com.
By the numbers: Just two weeks into his tenure as USF’s head coach, former Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh signed 16 players in his inaugural recruiting class. … The group consists of 16 high school prospects and four transfer portal players. … By position there are five offensive linemen, three wide receivers, a running back, a tight end, three defensive linemen, three defensive backs and a long snapper in the class. … Nine of the signees are from the state of Florida, three are from Georgia and one each are from Maryland, New Jersey and Texas. … Five of the prospects hail from the Tampa Bay area. … The Bulls had five players decommit from the class, most notably running back D.J. Oliver, a 3-star prospect who backed off his pledge in early December to sign with West Virginia.
Names to remember: Cornerback Jarvis Lee committed to both Virginia and Georgia Tech, and even took an official visit with the Yellow Jackets in December after backing off that pledge. But after an official to USF on Dec. 16, he received an offer from the Bulls and wound up signing. The 5-11, 173-pounder played for one of the nation’s best prep teams at IMG Academy and could provide some quick help at nickel or corner at USF. Offensive lineman Nikola Milovac (6-6, 280) is a native of Serbia and didn’t start playing football until age 15. He caught onto the game quickly and came to the United States to play in high school. Milovac originally committed to Old Dominion, but when USF got involved in December he flipped to the Bulls.
Portal power: USF lost 10 players to the transfer portal with running back Jaren Mangham being the most significant. Mangham, who was limited to four games in 2022, departed for Michigan State to join his brother, a safety for the Spartans. But the Bulls more than made up for those departures by bringing home a pair of former four-star recruits in defensive end Lloyd Summerall and cornerback Kendall Dennis. Both played at Lakeland High School before Summerall headed off to Florida and Dennis to Oklahoma. The 6-5, 231-pounder Summerall played in 27 games for the Gators over a four-year stretch, while Dennis saw limited action in three years with the Sooners. Other portal additions include tight end Weston Wolff from Maryland and wide receiver Naiem Simmons from FCS Wagner.
Still waiting on: The Bulls made a late play for 6-3, 225-pound athlete Desirrio Riles from University Christian High in Jacksonville, FL. Riles projects as an edge rusher/tight end and has reeled in 13 offers to date. He’s stated publicly he won’t make a decision on his college choice until the traditional signing period in February, and USF looms as one of his favorites.
Coach said: “I am very excited about our first early signing class at USF and the talent, work ethic and competitiveness they will bring to the Bulls,” Golesh said. “My staff did a fantastic job in a short amount of time to identify and sign some outstanding student-athletes, both from the high school ranks and the transfer portal, that will elevate our talent level and address several positions of need. We are thrilled to welcome these young men to USF and will be continuing to work to fill out this 2023 class with some strong additions in the late signing period while we prepare to build around a strong core of returners in our first practices this spring.” — USF coach Alex Golesh
National rankings: No. 63 in 247Sports.com, No. 53 in Rivals.com, No. 65 in On3.com, No. 60 by ESPN.com.
By the numbers: The Roadrunners will make their AAC debut in 2023 fresh off back-to-back Conference USA championships. … Coach Jeff Traylor signed 22 players during the early period, including 14 from the state of Texas. … Six of those are from the Greater Houston area. … Other signees are from Alabama, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and the program’s first player from American Samoa. … Nine of the prospects are transfers, six from junior colleges and three from either FBS and FCS programs. … The class features two quarterbacks, three running backs, three wide receivers, two tight ends, four offensive linemen, three defensive linemen, two linebackers and three cornerbacks. … The Roadrunners had five players back off pledges to the class, most notably wide receiver Tracy Revels, who signed with Bowling Green. … Sixteen of the 22 signees are expected to enroll in January.
Names to remember: Daniel Ogundipe (6-5, 285) is rated the nation’s No. 2 junior college offensive tackle by 247Sports.com. Originally signed by Old Dominion in the Class of 2021, Ogundipe will have three years of eligibility left at UTSA and should slide into a starting job next fall. The Roadrunners are losing three top players in their secondary, so Sam Houston transfer Kam Alexander and Texan Jakevian Rodgers are two speedy options to step into prominent roles immediately. JUCO Player of the Year Robert Henry will also compete for a job at running back.
Portal power: In addition to Alexander, UTSA is bringing in quarterback Owen McCown from Colorado and running back Rocko Griffin from Vanderbilt. McCown, the son of ex-NFL quarterback Josh McCown, played in four games as a true freshman with the Buffaloes, while Griffin led the Commodores in rushing in 2021 but played sparingly this season. Three players exited the program via the portal, but all served in a mainly reserve capacity.
Still waiting on: UTSA coach Jeff Traylor said last week that there are several “unknown” committed players who are waiting to hold signing celebrations. One of those could be safety Cameron Jenkins from Lewisville, TX, who named USTA among his top five schools back in July. But Jenkins remained uncommitted on signing day. His twin brother, cornerback Caden Jenkins, signed with Baylor, so perhaps he’s waiting for an opportunity to join him in Waco.
Coach said (on being tied with Memphis for top recruiting class among Group of 5 schools): “I didn’t come here to be the best in the G5. I want us to get a Power 5. To me we’re 55 spots behind where we need to be. We have to get our NIL money up or we’re never going to be there. I didn’t get the San Antonio kids because (Texas) A&M got them, Oregon got them, or Georgia got them. Follow where the players are going. Follow the trail.” — UTSA coach Jeff Traylor