Football signs 29 out of high school on National Signing Day

Mike McGough

Sacramento State’s football team signed 29 athletes Wednesday, all from California high schools, who will join the Hornets in 2015.

Known as National Signing Day, the first Wednesday of February marks the first day high school seniors across the country are allowed to submit binding letters of intent with NCAA football teams.

For Sac State coach Jody Sears, the focus in recruiting the signing class of 2015 was to establish a strong defensive line.

“Number one was we had to have defensive linemen, pure and simple,” Sears said. “If we are going to compete and win a national championship—yes, I said it, that’s how I started in Eastern Washington [University] 11 years ago. If we’re going to win a national championship, it’s got to start from the front, on both sides of the ball. We’ve got to build it from the inside out.”

Of the Hornets’ 29 signees, nine are defensive linemen.

Sears made it clear that he and his recruiting squad look beyond the football talent of the high school athletes and view the character and intangibles of each player as a valuable factor in recruiting decisions.

“These guys that we’ve signed today are going to be the face of our program in four, five years,” Sears said. “And so we have to be extremely diligent of what we want that to look like.”

Sears’ recruiting squad—a group composed of nearly a dozen of the team’s assistant coaches who each specialize in different regions of California—established a largely local signing class this year, with a total of seven freshmen signees coming from high schools in Sacramento, Roseville, Folsom and Vallejo.

“I think the advantage [of local recruiting] is the programs that they come from,” Sears said. “I mean the coaching in this town, in this area is just absolutely superb.”

Safety Jordan Thomas of Inderkum High School is one such signee. Thomas, who made 88 tackles in his senior season, committed to Arizona State University in 2014. After sitting out during the fall semester as a greyshirt, he parted ways with Arizona State.

“His greyshirt came around, and Arizona State ended up not keeping him,” Sears said. “Well, we were there to scoop him up and sign him today. That was a real home run for us.”

Fred Kelley, tight end coach and recruiting coordinator for the Hornets, handles recruiting in the Sacramento area.

Kelley described the process of recruiting players out of high school in advance of signing day.

“We talk to counselors, we talk to janitors, we talk to teachers,” Kelley said. “We talk to everybody on campus at their high school, trying to find out as much as we can about them.”

Notably, Sears and his squad recruited no players out of junior college. The coach spoke of developing the team from the freshman level, as will be necessary to build a foundation for the team moving forward.

The 2014 season marked the last for some of Sac State’s key players, including quarterback Garrett Safron and wide receiver DeAndre Carter. In that season—the first for Sears as head coach at Sac State—the Hornets went 7-5, their best mark since earning a 7-4 record in 2000.

Sears said that in 2015, Safron will be replaced either by Daniel Kniffin, a sophomore who threw 22 passes in 12 games last season, or Kolney Cassel, a midyear enrollee and transfer from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

Signing day, for the most part, is a formality. Most athletes make a verbal commitment to the college of their choice in advance of National Signing Day, but only on that day does the decision become official.

“You go through the battles that kids are committing, but it’s a verbal commitment,” Kelley said, referring to the period before National Signing Day. “And there’s nothing in paper, there’s nothing binding that keeps them here. But on Feb. 4, it becomes a binding contract. This is probably their first contract that these kids are signing for their lives [and] for their jobs.”

Interim Athletics Director Bill Macriss expressed approval of the job Sears and his assistant coaches have done with recruiting this year’s signing class.

“We believe in Coach Sears, what he’s about [and] what he’s trying to do,” Macriss said. “And we’re going to give him time to grow this team up. So bringing in a high amount of freshmen, I think is critical. You have to grow a team in football.”

The Hornets’ 2015 season will kick off in September.