Citadel football coach Mike Houston spent nervous hours by the phone Tuesday night, wondering if he’d be able to hang on to the 17 players who had verbally committed to the Bulldogs.
“You feel like you are going after the right guys when you have to fight pretty hard to keep your commitments,” Houston said in announcing his second Citadel recruiting class Wednesday. “We had a lot of very good football programs that we were battling to do so.”
With a full year to assemble his second class — Houston was hired in January 2014, just three weeks before signing day last year — The Citadel signed a group that includes four Shrine Bowl players and two North-South All-Stars, with eight players from South Carolina and seven from Georgia.
“The best thing about this class is that for the most part, we got exactly who we went after,” said Houston, who was 5-7 in his first season at The Citadel. “These are the young men we wanted from the get-go.”
The class leans heavily toward defense, with 12 of the 17 scholarship players on that side of the ball. The defensive line, which currently has just three scholarship players at the interior tackle spots, could present some early opportunity for the incoming freshmen.
A couple of intriguing players there are Ken Allen (6-1, 275) of Elberton, Ga., and Kevin Graham (6-1, 2650) of Durham, N.C. Allen had an early offer from Georgia Tech as a junior and won the state wrestling title as a heavyweight; Southern Conference foes Chattanooga and Western Carolina were after Graham.
Another candidate for early playing time is Shrine Bowl safety Aron Spann, a 6-2, 215-pounder from Dorman High School. He had heavy interest from Wofford, Furman, Elon, Western Carolina and Charleston Southern.
The Citadel offered Byrnes defensive end Noah Dawkins (6-2, 230) at a camp before his senior year after watching him run the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds with a vertical leap of 38 inches and a standing long jump of 10 feet, six inches. Dawkins backed that up with a school-record 23 sacks last season and could make an early impact as a pass rusher.
Another player who had a choice to make was center Tyler Davis (6-1, 285) of Waccamaw High School, who also considered Air Force and Navy. He’s one of The Citadel’s four Shrine Bowl players.
Other Shrine Bowlers include running back Rod Johnson of Ninety Six and defensive lineman Jordan Williams of Spring Valley High School. Williams’ brother, linebacker Jalon Williams, and safety Khafari Buffalo of Lakewood High School played in the North-South All-Star Game.
The lone quarterback in the class is Jordan Black of Vidalia, Ga., a likely redshirt candidate in 2015.
The Bulldogs also signed three recruited walk-ons, including running back Donovan Ward, son of South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward; safety Donald Rutledge of Sumter; and linebacker/long snapper Patrick Keefe of Fort Walton Beach, Fla.