GVSU football signs largest recruiting class in school history
Teams are built off of recruiting. Without a steady flow of the region’s top high school football players, teams would not be able to reload their rosters following the significant turnover that occurs at the end of each season.
During last season’s signing period, Grand Valley State football added 31 players to the Laker family—a strong number—as well as 23 in 2016.
If 31 recruits is good, then this year’s count of 44—the largest class in school history—is out of this world.
The 2018 Laker football class is comprised of 30 players from Michigan, five from Indiana, four each from Illinois and Ohio, and one from Canada. Twenty-three of the players are on defense, 20 on offense and one kicker. Impressively, 10 of the signees received significant interest from Division I schools.
“To be fully transparent, when you don’t make the playoffs and you’re used to making the playoffs, the next competitive thing is you want to win recruiting,” said head coach Matt Mitchell. “We got pretty aggressive. We got out there.”
One reason the class reached the number of players it did was social media. When players committed, they would make their way to outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to announce their decision and persuade their friends and teammates to consider GVSU.
In addition to sheer numbers, the recruiting class sees its strengths in the trenches and at quarterback. They signed three quarterbacks—Josh Czarnota (Fenton, Michigan); Cal Endicott (Flushing, Michigan); and Cade Peterson (Maple City, Michigan) — along with 10 offensive linemen and eight defensive linemen.
The offensive lineman class is highlighted by a quartet of potential Division I athletes in Quinton Barrow, a 6-foot-6-inch, 310-pound behemoth out of Romulus, Michigan; Brian Buchman, a Detroit Free Press All-East honoree from Warren, Michigan; Trevor Dilley, a defensive-standout-turned-lineman from St. Joseph, Michigan; and Jake Kochanny, an All-State player from Cadillac, Michigan.
On the defensive side, Caleb Murphy from Dowagiac, Michigan, stands out with three varsity letters and an All-State honor in his senior year in which he recorded 97 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and 13 sacks.
“(At) O-line, we only signed two prospects last year," Mitchell said. "You can’t go back-to-back years with o-line—a developmental position—lacking depth, so we hit that hard, and same thing with defensive line. We signed two defensive ends in 2017. We need more than that. Because of the cycles of things, we had to hit hard, and I think with o-line, d-line and quarterback we killed it.”
Mitchell emphasized that teams that are strong in those three positions oftentimes see ample success at any level, citing the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defensive line, the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line and, of course, the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady.
As far as immediate-impact players are concerned, the Lakers are currently unsure if any of their 44 freshmen will be called upon in 2018 to serve in a substantial role. With quarterback Bart Williams returning for his senior season, in-game reps will be scarce for the young players, and both lineman positions require development before any of those athletes receive playing time.
However, there is one signee who could have a good opportunity to get some quick exposure to the big time: kicker Josh Gorball out of Elkhart, Indiana.
“We had our struggles at kicker this year, not so much kickoff, but extra point/field goal may have hurt us a few games,” Mitchell said. “We signed a prospect out of Indiana, Josh Gorball. I think he’ll have a chance to compete.”
A few other players who could wind up being significant within the Laker program are Tariq Reid, a running back out of Davison, Michigan, and Jayden Rodgers, a defensive back from Columbus, Ohio.
Reid was regarded by some as the best running back in the state, and his accolades support that notion, as the 6-foot, 209-pound player comes to Allendale with four varsity letters and three all-state nods (as well as two academic all-state honors). He was also a two-time Michigan Player of the Year finalist. He accumulated 1,301 all-purpose yards and 14 total touchdowns in his senior year alone.
As for Rodgers, the 6-foot-1-inch, 175-pound DB also earned four varsity letters and two all-state placements. He recorded five interceptions in his final two seasons at Olentangy High School and recoded four sacks as a senior.
So, the question asked by people outside the program is often this: How does GVSU, a Division II school, attract such talent?
“I think, when you take a look at the profile of our institution, the size of our institution, our record, the tradition, the history, but even more so we look at the game-day atmosphere,” Mitchell said. “We had 16,000 people at our opener. That was more than Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan had at their home opener. All of our home games are broadcast on ESPN3.
“Even though we have the Division II approach to things, I don’t know that our level of commitment to winning or our level of commitment to exposure is any less than some of those other places, and I think that through education, prospects, parents and coaches see that about Grand Valley.”
Overall, this class could very well be looked back upon as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, recruiting classes in GVSU history. Will any of the newest Lakers join names like Matt Judon and Brandon Carr in the NFL? Will they lead GVSU to a fifth National Championship?
Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: The potential is abundant.