The inaugural early signing day took over the college football world on Wednesday as team’s across the country get a head start on their 2018 recruiting classes. The Troy Trojans, coming off their best season in FBS history, signed 14 players to their #earnit18 class.
Head coach Neal Brown and staff focus their recruiting efforts on the wiregrass and it showed with seven signees within 150 miles of Troy University.
By the end of the day, Troy’s class ranked fifth in the Sun Belt according to 247sports with seven three star recruits and 17 total commits. Of the three commits yet to sign, former Georgia State commit and three star defensive tackle Will Choloh, Jr could be the 15th signature by the end of the week.
Below are five of the signees that could end up making a big impact in Troy.
CB Levon Fletcher
Fletcher had multiple FBS offers, including from Colorado and Air Force. The 5’11 170 lb defensive back chose Troy and inked his letter of intent the first chance he got. Fletcher has tremendous ball skills and gets his head around quickly. His field vision and pursuit ability also makes him effective against the run.
The Troy staff is not afraid to play freshmen, evident by the fact that three freshmen corners were in the defensive backfield rotation during the 2017 campaign. Fletcher’s intangibles, coupled with his return ability, makes him a strong candidate for early playing time in 2018.
Freshman Marcus Jones took the Sun Belt by storm with his electric kick return ability and his strong play at nickel, leading all Troy corners in tackles with 49. Fletcher is similar to Jones except that Fletcher’s coverage skills are a little further along than when Jones’ first arrived on campus. With Jalen Harris and Kam Melton graduating, Troy won’t miss a beat when Fletcher joins a young and talented DB room. Not to mention with Blace Brown still locking down one side of the field.
QB Gunnar Watson
The two sport athlete had FBS offers from Troy and South Alabama but made his decision quickly and never looked back. Watson, the number 42 pro-style quarterback, also plays baseball. His junior season on the diamond turned a few heads with an impressive .509/.597/.905 slash. His heart, however, lies in football. Watson has a chance to step on campus and compete immediately with the long Brandon Silvers era having just ended.
The thing stands out about Watson as a quarterback is his football IQ. Watson played in a very similar spread out offense at Taylor County and carved up defenses with quick reads and the ability to progress through his routes. The latter skill is a rarity for a quarterback still in high school and will help Watson immensely when he arrives in Troy.
With the second most prolific quarterback in Troy history graduated, the starting job is open for the taking. Kaleb Barker, who received a good amount of experience this year, is the early front runner. Barker is an option-type QB who logged 181 rushing yards this season along with 143 passing yards. Sawyer Smith, a pocket passer, is the other quarterback in play. Watson will be the third quarterback in the race and offers a mix of the two aforementioned passers. He’s accurate in the pocket and on the move and is fast enough to be effective in the option game.
DT AJ Pierce
Pierce had 10 offers ranging from Southern Miss to Navy to Jacksonville State but stayed home and signed with Troy. The 6’1 310 lb interior lineman was a no-brainer for the Troy staff. Playing just 55 miles from Troy’s main campus, Pierce routinely mauled opposing lineman with impressive upper body strength.
Pierce moved around the defensive line at Northview, sometimes playing defensive end. His versatility will come in handy when he joins defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’ multiple style defense. As mentioned before, his biggest plus is his strength. You could throw him in an FBS game right now and he could hold his own. If this were NCAA 14, his hit power rating would be north of 90 as a freshman.
Both of Troy’s defensive tackles, Baron Poole and Jamal Stadom, are graduating. The pair were a major part in Troy’s dominant rush defense and their departures leave two sizable holes to be filled. Pierce will be a part of a wide open defensive line competition that also features an open defensive end spot. Don’t be surprised if Pierce can crack the rotation in just year one.
RB Kevin Perkins
Perkins is one of five JUCO signees in Troy’s class so far and may be a name Troy fans will become familiar with sooner rather than later. Perkins had an offer from Kentucky but elected to sign with the Trojans out of Northwest Mississippi Community College. He had 884 rushing yards on 5.4 yards per carry last season and has three years left of eligibility.
Perkins is a big back at 6’0 230 lb but is deceptively quick for his size. He hits the hole with force and his quick feet coupled with his size make dangerous after contact. Perkins is a rare combination of power and speed, a style of play Troy has been used to with Jordan Chunn.
Running back was a glaring need in this class with Chunn and Josh Anderson having played their final games. Perkins is seemingly a perfect fit to offset Jamarius Henderson’s speed with his power. Throw in a healthy Jabir Frye and a more experienced BJ Smith and Troy’s running back stable will be a more than capable unit next fall.
OL Jake Andrews
The Troy staff put a big emphasis on line play and have come away with an impressive haul. Andrews is one of three offensive lineman who have signed so far and is the highest rated prospect Troy has in the 2018 class. He recently took part in the Alabama-Mississippi All Star game where he was the second highest rated tackle on the Alabama side.
While Andrews is listed as an offensive tackle on 247sports, he can play any spot on the line. At 6’3 330 lb, it’s likely Andrews finds a home at guard while at Troy. His strength also makes him a good fit for the interior as Andrews recorded 45 pancakes in just 11 games during his senior season.
The Trojans were relatively young on the offensive line in 2017 but still had a solid season. Troy is graduating just one starter and two regulars in Steven Rowzie and Jonathon Boring at left tackle but Andrews could easily play himself into the rotation, using his versatility to his advantage. Andrews also adds instant size to a line that averages 301.6 lb across the starting five.
Troy hit on several key positions of need with this class and still has another month and a half to add to it. Troy’s staff stressed the importance of having great line of scrimmage play in this class and it showed with eight of the 14 signatures coming on the offensive or defensive line. The Trojans are now set with great depth on the O-line and have talented playmakers ready to step in on the other side.
With a conference championship and a second consecutive bowl win under Brown’s belt, the wall around Troy has been built. Now the Trojans are adding to it player by player.