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With National Signing Day in the rear-view mirror, Western Kentucky inked 25 commits this past Wednesday to go along with eight early enrollees already soaking in the campus lifestyle, attending team meetings, and participating in team workouts. The monster 33-man class was put in place to offset the significantly small signing class from a year ago, which only featured 13 signees, and fill some immediate holes in the roster along the offensive and defensive lines for spring football.
Now that the ruckus is over and the dust has settled, let's break down the WKU signing class.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Shaquille Johnson, TE, Columbia (Fla.)
Tight end has been a very valuable position during the Willie Taggart era and while the offensive schemes will be a-changing, the tight end will hold equal value in Petrino's offensive system. As one of the great ones in Jack Doyle graduates and moves on to a potential career in the NFL, it was very important for the Hilltoppers to find a suitable replacement for the future and they did. Johnson has the size, physicality, and soft hands to become the next prolific tight end.
Todd Porter, QB, O'Fallon (Ill.)
Porter is the style of quarterback that Petrino wants, a pure-pocket passer with quick wheels and speed that can easily escape a traffic jam. He can really spin the ball and make all the throws necessary for success from darts to touch passes. Don't be shocked to see Porter come in and make a case for the starting job during fall practice. Petrino recruited him for a reason.
Joe Fennell, OL, South Fort Myers (Fla.)
He is rated the 21st offensive lineman in the country according to Rivals and already has the size to go toe-to-toe with college football's best, standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 320 pounds. With Fennell, the Hilltoppers have a prospect that can make an immediate impact along the offensive line and could be a starter by the time the season begins. Fennell had originally committed to WKU back in October, then flipped to South Florida when Taggart took the job, but ended up re-committing to WKU the week before National Signing Day. While Fennell possesses a tremendous amount of talent, qualifying academically could become an issue. That's something to watch out for.
DON'T SLEEP ON THESE
DeMarcus Glover, DE, Pine Forest (Pensacola, Fla.)
There are some leaks to plug along the defensive front, none bigger than at defensive end with the departure of Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year, Quanterus Smith. With that in mind, Glover stands at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and features quickness off the ball and strength to push opposing offensive lineman aside to create havoc in the backfields of many.
Aaron Jackson, WR, Frankfort (Ky.)
Jackson provides three factors that are important in becoming a wide receiver at the college level
size, speed, and leaping ability. Petrino heard about Jackson from other prospects he was visiting in Louisville and one look at his video was all the convincing the new head coach needed. Expect Jackson to become best friends with an offensive system designed to get playmakers the ball and give them every opportunity to gain yardage after the catch.
Marcus Ward, DB, Vestavia Hills (Ala.)
Ward is a tough, physical defensive back that has experience playing both cornerback and strong safety in high school. He has great football smarts and intimidating size at the position, standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing 200-pounds. Ward is not opposed to mixing things up with receivers utilizing his size and aggressiveness to disrupt routes and make plays in the secondary.
POSITION MOST HELPED
One of Western Kentucky's greatest strengths from a year ago just got stronger and deeper with eight offensive lineman signed to this year's class. Three players will be graduating in "Big Country" Adam Smith, Luke Stansfield, and Seth White along an O-line that helped the Hilltoppers rush for over 2,600 yards as a team. Out of the eight signed, three are listed as three-star prospects that are expected to come in contribute from day one.
POSITION LEAST HELPED
Although, Dontravious Wilson was once committed to WKU while Willie Taggart was the head coach, Wilson flipped his commit to Central Florida after the coaching change. However, with no hits to graduation and the return of Antonio Andrews, the Hilltoppers will be solid at the running back position with a capable supporting cast returning in bruiser Keyshawn Simpson, Leon Allen, and Marquis Sumler. Also, expect to see Anthony "Ace" Wales fully participate in spring practice after rehabbing a shoulder injury for much of last season. There is significant hype surrounding that young man.
SUMMARIZING THE CLASS
While Rivals has the Hilltoppers ranked third in the Sun Belt Conference, their are future starters and immediate impact players in this group of prospects. The 33-man group was geographically dynamic with past and present coaching staffs reaching out to California, Louisiana, Texas, and Illinois. Grabbing eight early enrollees, six from the JUCO ranks and two from high school, were key in solving depth issues for spring football.
Also, fans seem excited about the signing of kicker Joe Occhipinti from Hillsboro (Tn.) with kicking struggles having plagued WKU over the last two seasons.
It seems everything is in place for new head coach Bobby Petrino and his coaching staff to instill their style of football. Buckle up, it should be a fun offensive show.