Liberty added 7 signees on Wednesday to their class of 2018 which saw 19 sign in December. The Flames have also added a mid-year transfer who has already enrolled in school in wide receiver Johnny Huntley.
Three of the seven signees are Junior College prospects bringing a total of 8 JUCO prospects that make up the 2018 class. Depth and experience were key targets for Coach Turner Gill’s staff in this class.
“I wanted people who had some experience,” Gill told members of the media Wednesday afternoon, “and experience at a higher level. High school versus Junior College, that’s two more years, not only from a mental side of it that’s advantageous, but also from a physical side of it. They’re more physically mature. They can come in here and be able to matchup against some FBS opponents that sometimes a high school kid – you may have to play him, but he’s not physically ready. We have (8) Junior College guys that will be able to be impactful on our football team right away. We thought that was very important as we move forward here at the FBS level.”
The JUCO signees were Chris Barrett, Jessie Lemonier, and Isaac Steele. Barrett is a 6’3″, 245 pound tight end from Clearwater, Florida and attended ASA Miami this past season. “He is an all-around tight end that is able to block, able to catch,” Gill said of Barrett. “He is that true guy who defines tight end as being able to do all those things – blocking the line of scrimmage, blocking away from the line of scrimmage, catch passes in the flex area, he can go down field, has good hands, can also put himself in a 3-point stance. He’s a multi-purpose guy.”
Lemonier is a 6’3″, 240 pound defensive end originally from Hialeah, Florida and attended Ventura College in California. “A fantastic player,” Gill said. “He can run, get off the ball, so fantastic and explosive. His brother played in the NFL, played defensive end too. He’s going to be very, very impactful.”
Steele is a 6’0″, 180 pound defensive back from Mesa Community College and Phoenix, Arizona. He will have 3 years of eligibility remaining.
The Flames also added high school prospects Marcellous Harris, Ricky Lester, Brandon Robinson, and Javon Scruggs. Harris a 5’11”, 190 pound defensive back that attended the same high school as former Flame and current Miami Dolphin Walt Aikens, Harding University High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Lester enters the program as a defensive back, but at 6’2″ and 180 pounds he could play the spur position.
Brandon Robinson is the lone quarterback in the signing class. He’s listed at 6’4″ and 215 pounds, but Gill says he may be closer to 225, 230. “He can throw, he can run, very impressive,” Gill said of the signal caller. “He can throw off-balance. He can make a lot of great throws. We’re definitely excited about what he’s able to do.”
Scruggs is a local product from nearby Appomattox High School. “It’s great for our people here in this area,” Gill said. “Obviously, they all recognize the name, and Appomattox has done a great job. (Head Coach) Doug Smith is a former player here at Liberty. It’s a huge thing for Javon, for Appomattox, for Liberty, and the Lynchburg area to see a local player be able to come here and play for his home crowd. I think that’s a big plus for us.”
Out of the 26 total signees in this class, 5 were rated as three star prospects while 10 were rated as two stars. The move to FBS certainly helped give this class a huge boost as the three previous signing classes had a combined total of 5 three star and 6 two star signees.
“The FBS announcement was huge nationwide,” Gill said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to present Liberty – what we stand for, what we’re all about. Definitely a lot of people have heard about us, no question the Baylor win was something that was talked about quite a bit and got some attention from a lot of recruits and coaches across the country. (It showed) that Liberty has a solid football program and is definitely a place a student-athlete needs to look at.”
Defensive backs and defensive line saw the largest number of signees as there were 7 DBs and 6 DL prospects who signed with the Flames. “When you’re playing these multiple teams who are playing 3 and 4 wide outs when you get to the FBS lev.e, there’s a lot of substitution that goes on,” Gill said of the position breakdown. “We needed to get a lot of depth with quality players so we can be able to substitute and do all the things that we may want to do – playing more of a dime, having 6 DBs, that we may want to go to. We know at the FBS level we’re going to have to have some rotation. You’re going to have to play a lot more people, particularly on the defensive line. You’re going to have to have about 8 guys you’re going to have to play.”
The same was true for wide receiver and offensive line as Liberty’s 2018 class saw 4 each at those positions. “We want to be able to rotate and not drop off,” Gill explained. “We want to keep the pressure on the defense. We want to have talented players all across the board because there’s going to be talented players across the board at the FBS level. We were definitely intentional to get more receivers so we can rotate them in and out of there, maybe every 3-4 plays, an dwe can keep the pressure on because we are going to throw the ball down the field.”
The class also features two tight ends, 1 linebacker, 1 running back, and the 1 quarterback as mentioned earlier.
Liberty did miss out on 3-star and local running back prospect Elijah Davis who signed with Old Dominion. He had visited Liberty and JMU before signing with the Monarchs.
Gill mentioned that he intended on signing as many as 30 prospects in this class. With the 26 signees and 1 transfer, there’s still room for a few additional pieces and Gill says there could be some additions in the coming days. “We’re going to continue to evaluate. We’re going to continue to recruit. We’re going to continue to bring people in as time goes along. If we find the right fit, the right people, we will try to fulfill (the goal of 30 signees).”
Gill thinks this recruiting class will help the team be successful as it transitions to FBS. “The end result was we wanted depth, we wanted experience, and we wanted guys that could be impactful on our football team. I think these young men fulfill that.”