New class raises bar
Posted: Wednesday, February 8, 2012 12:00 pm
By KEVIN WEAKS
In case anyone has missed it, UT Martin’s football program has developed into one of the best in the Ohio Valley Conference in recent years.
Talented high school players are beginning to take notice.
Head coach Jason Simpson and his staff signed 20 players on Wednesday as part of National Signing Day, those players joining six who signed early and are already enrolled in school.
“No one is ever where they want to be, but there are certainly a lot more teams behind us than in front of us,” the UTM head man said.
Proof is in the numbers.
UTM ranks as the second best team in the OVC during Simpson’s six-year tenure with a league record of 29-18 and overall mark of 37-31. Only Eastern Kentucky, with a 36-11 conference mark and 41-28 overall record, has been better during that stretch.
Good numbers usually add up to more good numbers, and the 2012 signing class could be an example of that.
Introducing each player with video clips during a press conference in the Boling University Center on campus Wednesday afternoon, the head coach talked about the many qualities the class brings to his program, both as individuals and as a group.
The class comes from winning stock as six played on state championship teams, two others played for state runner-up squads and one — Louisville Trinity defensive end Tyler Sweeden — played for a team crowned national champion.
The latest Skyhawk class has players from six different states as well as a large number of in-state products, including numerous home-grown players.
Among the 26 signees are six junior college players, 12 players from Tennessee, five from Mississippi, two each from Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and one each from Alabama, Indiana and Kentucky.
“We signed 10 players from Memphis to Paris,” Simpson said of his West Tennessee haul. “Hopefully, that will be a great recruiting tool for the future. We hope it pays off in wins and in bringing in more people to help fill our stadium.”
The Skyhawks added 11 offensive and 15 defensive players. The Skyhawks added six defensive backs and four defensive linemen.
“We had some specific needs on the defensive side of the ball that we had to fill,” Simpson said. “We lost players such as All-American CJ Estelle and Kendal Harper in our secondary, so we had to go out and get some guys. We also needed to build some depth on our defensive line.”
The Skyhawks also added a local flare with three players from Class 5A state champion Henry County. The trio includes Shaq Allen (RB), Caleb Counce (LB) and Najee Ray (QB). The Skyhawks also added Dresden product Tyler McPeak and Obion County Central’s LaDevin Fair.
Academics proved to be a good selling point as well. Armed with statistics such as 32 players with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, 24 on the Dean’s List and six who graduated in December, Simpson was able to show that his staff takes a personal interest in players’ school work.
Proof that the program’s talent pool is at a high level is in the number of the incoming players that could redshirt. Simpson expects to have about half the class sit out their first year.
“We think we’re that far along in our program now, and that’s a good thing,” Simpson said. “When they’re 23-year-old fifth-year players, it’s a whole different conversation than when they were 18-year-olds.”
The Skyhawks open their 2012 season Saturday, Sept. 1, at Memphis. Published in The WCP 2.7.12