Gary Pinkel could have been any college football coach in the country.
Sitting in front of a crowd in the Tiger Lounge at Memorial Stadium, Pinkel beamed about his newest recruiting class. Wednesday was National Signing Day, the first day recruits can sign letters of intent with their school of choice.
“I am excited about the class,” Pinkel said. “I don’t know of any coach in America that doesn’t come up and start with that statement. I think we continue to upgrade and I feel good about the direction we are going.”
Traditionally, signing day is filled with hope. Every coach in America praises his newest crop of players and talks about the potential for his class.
ESPN ranks MU's recruiting class in top 20
Missouri signed 24 players, including 13 from in state. While most coaches say they are happy with their class, it would seem Pinkel had good reason. ESPN.com’s Tom Lemming ranks MU’s class No. 20 in the nation.
The Tigers didn’t meet Pinkel’s goal of getting 90 percent of the best players from the state, but came within about 2 percent.
The class features headliners such as Rock Bridge’s Chase Patton and Van Alexander and Rockhurst tailback Tony Temple. Some are unknown commodities, such as junior college transfer George Lane and Texas’ John Dirk.
Recruiting coordinator David Yost said Missouri focused its efforts on upgrading the skill positions.
MU pursued two quarterbacks and got both. Patton and Webster Groves’ Darrell Jackson became more important when Sonny Riccio transferred to Delaware.
Yost said neither quarterback fears competition and he was upfront with both about Missouri’s desire to land two quarterbacks.
“We explained to both of them that we were going to sign two quarterbacks this year,” Yost said. “Getting the two guys this year was really a big deal.”
Temple leads backfield signees
At running back, the Tigers signed three athletes. Temple, Earl Goldsmith and Jimmy Jackson join a crowded backfield that features junior Damien Nash and redshirt freshman Marcus Woods.
Goldsmith and Jackson don’t have the reputation of Temple, but running backs coach Brian Jones said both could make an impact at some point. More than their talent, the three backs give the Tigers quality depth at an important position.
“I am expecting big things from all of those guys in the fall,” Jones said. “Each of those players are special in their own way.”
Tigers sign big play receivers
The position that Missouri might have improved at the most is wide receiver. The Tigers lacked a big-play threat at that position this past season and signed three talented athletes that could play right away.
Vashon’s William Franklin (No. 40), Hayti’s William Moore (No. 64) and Highland’s Jerrill Humphrey (No. 16) are all ranked in Rivals.com’s top 100 receivers.
Receivers coach Andy Hill, who also recruits the Kansas City area, said he expects big things from his newest playmakers.
“They are very, very athletic,” Hill said. “You look at speed, athleticism, quickness, jumping ability and making plays with the football they can do it.”
Hill said he knew Franklin could be a special player based on a story he heard about one of basketball coach Quin Snyder’s camps.
As Snyder started a drill, he called on one player to set up near the basket and take a charge. He called on Franklin to do the charging, but instead of running into the other player, Franklin dunked over the player without touching him.
Brian Barmann, of Weston, was the lone tight end to sign. Barmann’s brother Adam is a quarterback at Kansas.
Aside from the skill positions, Missouri shored up its offensive line with four recruits. Kyle Riggs, a tackle from Festus, is the highest-ranked of the group at No. 9 among offensive linemen.
Dirk, Aaron Saunders and Riggs signed on Wednesday. Saunders is a 6-foot-7, 290-pound athlete from San Antonio who could play on either side of the ball.
The MU defense didn’t go unnoticed either, for the Tigers added a number of players at each position.
Along the defensive line, Missouri seemed to shop in bulk, adding five players. Lane and Ryan Madison project as tackles.
Madison is from South Harrison High in Bethany, the same school that produced redshirt freshman Tyler Luellen.
Chris Wade, Calcius Williams and Stryker Sulak also signed after making oral commitments. Williams and Sulak came from Texas and Wade is Missouri’s lone Oklahoma recruit.
Wade followed MU receiver Jason Ray, a redshirt freshman, from Broken Arrow High to MU.
Tigers add depth at linebacker position
Linebacker is, perhaps, the position Missouri bolstered the most with this class. Alexander, Dallas’ Alvin Newhouse and Parkway North’s Aaron O’Neal project as linebackers.
Arthur Miller, another linebacker who committed orally to the Tigers, didn’t sign his letter of intent, but could sign later.
The secondary should also get a boost from Missouri’s latest additions. Domonique Johnson, of LaMarque High in Texas, and Rockhurst’s Steve Redmond are the only recruits who have played defensive back throughout their high school careers.
A pair of players Yost calls “pure athletes” could join Johnson and Redmond. Mack Breed, a teammate of Saunders’, and Julius Denzmore, of East St. Louis, played quarterback in high school but seem to be prime candidates to move to the defensive backfield.
Outside safety coach Cornell Ford, who recruits St. Louis, said it is valuable to have players who are versatile enough to play a number of positions.
“You like to try to get a kid who can play more than just one position,” Ford said. “If he gets in here and doesn’t pan out to be the best at that position, you can move him somewhere else and he can help the football team.”
Pinkel said Missouri’s success in the state could be the start of something big for the program. After the coaching staff received the letters of intent this morning, it immediately went back to work on recruiting for next year.
That kind of dedication is what it takes to reach the heights Pinkel envisions.
“I feel good that almost 90 percent of the best players in the state said ‘We can achieve our goals at the University of Missouri,” Pinkel said. “Now, the key is to do it again next year.”