No coach in the history of college football has ever said they were unhappy with the class of recruits they landed on national signing day. Yet the excitement on Paul Tortorella’s face Wednesday was genuine.
“From what we know up to this point, potentially this could be as good as any class we’ve had in a while,” said Tortorella, IUP’s fourth-year head coach. “Sometimes things just fall into place and you get the right guys at the right positions.”
Those are some strong words, ones that should either be prophetic or debatable in the years to come. But before dismissing them, consider this: In the past few months, Tortorella and his staff assembled their big board of potential recruits ranked them at each position, and on Wednesday, they signed the top ones at every position on their board.
Every single one of them.
“We didn’t just settle for guys. We got the guys we wanted,” Tortorella said. “It could be a really, really good class. We’ll find out in a couple years.”
On the first day when NCAA Division II schools can sign players to a binding national letter of intent, Tortorella and the Crimson Hawks added 18 high school players to the roster. All are from Pennsylvania, with eight coming from WPIAL schools.
In recent years, IUP has heavily recruited areas in Maryland and Virginia, but the considerable cost of out-of-state players being what it is, Tortorella thought it would be best if he spent his scholarship money on players from Pennsylvania, and he found them all over the place.
“We break the state up into the west, the central and the east,” he said. “We got nine from the west, four from the central and four from the east. We thought we’d be able to get 15 to 20 good players, and we feel like we did.”
Two names that jump off the list are defensive lineman Logan Danielson and wide receiver Daniel Deabner, teammates from state champion Thomas Jefferson. Danielson was the inaugural winner of the Fralic Award, named after former Pitt star and NFL great Bill Fralic, which honors the top lineman in the WPIAL, and Deabner finished his career with 177 catches for 2,668 yards and 44 touchdowns.
“A couple people have called me and were like,’ How did you get those guys? We figured they were I-AA guys all the way,’” Tortorella said.
High school success is a common thread among most of the 18 recruits. While Danielson and Deabner were on state championship teams, two other recruits — Central Valley linebacker Montel Sims and Central Dauphin offensive lineman Chad Layton — were on PIAA runner-up teams.
What’s more, several other recruits come from tradition-rich programs, such as defensive back Jaheim Howard (Erie Cathedral Prep), multi-position Kameron Kruzelyak (West Allegheny), defensive back Isaiah Towler (Aliquippa) and offensive lineman Gerald Comedy (Washington).
Tortorella said taking good players from good programs has a long-term benefit for IUP.
“We’re into recruiting the programs that win a lot because their guys, you usually don’t have to work on them to transition into college,” he said. “These guys have all had a lot of success as players, but their teams are good, too. We want guys who know how to win. They’re a lot easier to develop.”
The 18 recruits break down like this: eight on defense, five on offense, four “athletes” and one specialist (kicker Tyler Luther, of Chambersburg).
Another aspect to the recruiting class that was intentional was to find players who also stood out in the classroom and in the community. Tortorella said the 18 players have an average grade-point average of 3.2 with a 1050 SAT score.
Comedy, the lineman from Washington, is currently ranked No. 2 academically in his senior class. Aliquippa’s Towler is a member of the National Honor Society, and two-way lineman Cavan Trout is an honor student at Greensburg Salem.
Noah Vaughan, a 230-pound linebacker, is a youth ambassador and scholar-athlete at Beaver Falls. Sims was the homecoming king at Central Valley, and Erie Cathedral Prep’s Howard won the Fox66 Good Kid Award.
“I’m sure if you asked our opponents what kind of class we got, they’ll tell you we got a good one,” Tortorella said. “But that doesn’t mean it is. We’ll look back in a few years and find out.”
As previously reported, IUP added four mid-year transfers who enrolled in classes last month: cornerback Bryce Gibson (Youngstown State), linebacker Connor Kelly (Edinboro), quarterback Alex Ramart (Akron) and running back Dayjure Stewart (Fork Union Military Academy).
ROSTER NOTES: Two key players from last year’s 10-2 playoff team will not be back this spring. Tight end Jacob Watts has given up football and plans to transfer to a school closer to his home in Scranton, and defensive end Jackson Heasley has been forced to retire because of concussions. Heasley is still enrolled at IUP and will help with the team during spring drills, which begin March 27. … A spring game is tentatively scheduled for Friday, April 24. … Four players will sit out spring ball because of injuries: linebacker Joey Tortorella, offensive lineman Cody Coppinger, defensive end Will Mayr and cornerback Kyeer Geisinger. … Starting right tackle Ken Roman will not participate in spring drills because he has only one semester of eligibility remaining, so he will use it in the fall.
HELP WANTED: Tortorella said he will be hiring an assistant coach soon to replace Jake Nulph, who left last month to become the head coach at PSAC rival Edinboro.
Nulph coached defensive backs in his one season at IUP, but Tortorella said he will likely hire a new linebackers coach, as defensive coordinator Jim Smith, who had mentored the linebackers, will take over the secondary.
Tortortella said he plans to have the new coach in place before spring drills start.