If there's one thing new coach Mike Houston wants to accomplish in his makeover of Citadel football, it's to get the Bulldogs to play faster.
Step one was taken Wednesday, when Houston signed 17 players to national letters of intent on signing day, with an emphasis on speed. Step two begins Feb. 18 with the start of spring practice, when Houston will introduce the returning Bulldogs to a new pace of play.
"We wanted to get faster as a football team," Houston said at a news conference Wednesday, his first since he was hired Jan. 9 to replace Kevin Higgins. "You always worry about your (offensive and defensive) lines, and with the guys we graduated we had to take care of the secondary. And in the triple-option offense, I think you have to take a quarterback every year.
"But the biggest thing was to improve our overall athleticism as a team . We want to play much faster. And we can play much faster. The current guys on the team can play much faster, and that will be an important part of spring practice."
Eight of the 17 players signed Wednesday - six of them from in-state - are quarterbacks, running backs or defensive backs, all smaller players whose primary asset is speed.
Quarterbacks Shon Belton (5-11, 187) from Lugoff-Elgin High School and Jalen Lampkin (5-10, 176) from Augusta, Ga., could find themselves as a second- or third-team QB next season, or playing another position. Jauveer Hammond (5-8, 170) played quarterback at Strom Thurmond High School, but already has been moved to slotback.
"Most of the quarterbacks we will recruit in this offense could play other positions," Houston said. "If an athlete can play quarterback in the triple-option in college, he's obviously a special athlete."
Slotback Matt Thompson II (5-11, 205) of Morristown, Tenn., could see the field as a freshman. Defensive backs Reggie Benjamin (5-9, 190) of Palm Bay, Fla., Shy Phillips (6-0, 165) of Hartsville and Josh Massey (5-11, 190) of Rock Hill all are potential top-flight playmakers.
Phillips and Massey also are potential two-sport standouts. Phillips also will play outfield for Fred Jordan's baseball team, and chose The Citadel over Coastal Carolina, Charleston Southern and Western Carolina. Massey, who had interest from Wofford and Youngstown State, also plans to play baseball.
Derrick Freeland (6-1, 245), who was a North Carolina Shrine Bowl pick from state champion Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, leads a group of three offensive linemen. At 6-5 and 200 pounds, Tre'von White of Pelham, Ga., is an intriguing prospect at defensive end.
Houston said his first signing class is not complete. Fullback Isiaha Smith of Hagerstown, Md., was not able to sign Wednesday due to inclement weather; he plans to sign Thursday.
Goose Creek fullback Evan McField made a dramatic switch from South Carolina State to The Citadel at the Gators' signing ceremony Wednesday morning. But his letter of intent had not been received by Wednesday night, so Houston could not comment on him. And Goose Creek quarterback Dantez Bennamon, a prospect in football and basketball, remains undecided between The Citadel and Furman. Indications are that he will sign with Furman for basketball.
Overall, Houston said he's pleased that he and his staff were able to hang on to most of the six commitments The Citadel had when he was hired, and then hustle to round out the class in just three weeks.
"It's been a scramble," he said. "Three weeks to put the class together, and our coaches spent a lot of time out on the road. We're very happy with the group we signed. We think they'll lay the foundation for our program moving forward."
Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Hometown/School
Shon Belton QB 5-11 187 Lugoff-Elgin HS
Reggie Benjamin DB 5-9 190 Palm Bay, Fla./Palm Bay
Derrick Freeland OL 6-1 245 Charlotte/Mallard Creek HS
Jauveer Hammond RB 5-8 170 Johnston/Strom Thurmond
Tristan Harkleroad OL 6-2 275 Savannah, Ga./Benedictine Military
Russell Hubbs LB 6-1 222 Rock Hill/Northwestern
Jonathan King DL 6-1 258 Statesville, N.C./South Iradell
Jalen Lampkin QB 5-10 176 Augusta, Ga./Westside
Sydney Martin OL 6-2 270 Lyman/Byrnes
Josh Massey DB 5-11 190 Rock Hill/South Pointe
Shy Phillips DB 6-0 165 Hartsville HS
Myles Pierce LB 6-0 227 Daphne, Ala./Daphne
Logan Robinson DL 6-4 225 Arlington, Va./Yorktown
Matt Thompson II RB 5-11 205 Morristown, Tenn/Morristown East
Houston Tyler OL 6-0 260 Oklahoma City, Okla./Southmoore
Quinlan Washington RB 6-0 185 Gainesville, Fla./Bucholz
Tre'von White DE 6-5 200 Pelham, Ga./Pelham