The Ferris State University football program focused on both quantity and quality as the Bulldogs assembled one of their largest recruiting classes in recent memory with the addition of 26 student-athletes who signed National Letters-of-Intent this Wednesday (Feb. 4) on National Signing Day. The announcement of this year's recruiting class was made by Bulldog head coach Jeff Pierce.
"We're extremely excited about the quality of student-athletes we were able to bring in," said Pierce, who will embark on his 15th year at Ferris State this coming fall and is the program's all-time winningest coach with a 91-64 (.587) career mark. "It's great for the future of Bulldog Football to add kids with the athletic and academic achievements of this group."
"This class features an outstanding mix of kids who are committed to success and we were able to fill some needs with high-quality kids," added Pierce.
The Bulldogs' prep recruiting class features 20 products from the state of Michigan along with two apiece from, Illinois, Florida and Indiana. This year's 26 initial signees marks one of the largest classes in Pierce's tenure and it represents the fourth time in the last five years the Bulldogs have added a player from the state of Indiana. FSU has inked an Illinois product six times in the last nine years to date, including two or more each of the last two seasons.
"We've been able to attract a number of kids from other states in the Great Lakes Region the last few years because of some of the efforts made across campus," Pierce said. "Our talent poll has expanded as the university has unveiled new tuition programs to help kids who are still within driving distance of Ferris."
The program's two Florida recruits, prep teammates Troy McClary (Punta Gorda, Fla./Charlotte) and Brandon Ross (Port Charlotte/Charlotte), follow in the footsteps of several former Bulldog standouts who hailed from the Sunshine state including a Harlon Hill Trophy finalist in wide receiver Clarence Coleman along with tailbacks Derek Fudge and Mo Harris.
This year's class consists of 14 individuals on defense and nine on the offensive side of the ball along with three specialists. FSU placed a primary focus defensively where seven starters were lost to graduation, including the unit's entire linebacking corps. The average weight of the 26 newcomers is 209 pounds and 14 of the 26 individuals weigh over 200 pounds.
In addition, this year's class maintains a 3.1 average grade point average and over 60% of the signees are in contention to receive some form of academic scholarship aid at Ferris State.
"We feel strongly that this group has the ability to succeed academically in the classroom and still be in our program four or five years down the road, which is the most important thing in this process," said Pierce.
On offense, Ferris State signed a pair of quarterbacks in Mount Pleasant's Jarrett Leister (St. Louis/Mount Pleasant) and Jace Heneveld (Zeeland/East). Leister threw for 1,782 yards while completing 130 of 226 passes with 18 touchdowns his final campaign in helping the Oilers to a 9-2 overall record and a district final appearance. The All-Saginaw Valley League standout earned honorable mention Associated Press Division 3-4 All-State kudos and also ran for 419 yards and six TD's. A three-year starter, Heneveld was also an honorable mention all-state signal caller by several sources and started for the third year in a row.
Headlining FSU's skill position signees is 2008 Associated Press Division 7-8 State Offensive Player of the Year Skyler Stoker (Jackson/Grass Lake). The talented tailback ran for 2,255 yards and 42 touchdowns as a senior and compiled more than 200 yards in four contests for prep head coach Randy Cole. He'll join current Bulldog quarterback Tom Schneider (Jerome/Addison), who made 10 starts as a redshirt freshman at FSU last fall, as former Cascade Conference players in the Ferris backfield. Besides Stoker, the Bulldogs also inked another standout running back in Nicholas Rowe (Shelby Township/Henry Ford II).
Offensively, Ferris also received committments from two slot players in McClary and Alan Freeman (Westland/Inskter). The speedy McClary tallied 1,208 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 2008 to go with 18 catches for 195 yards in the Fightin' Tarpons lineup while being selected to compete in the South-Central Florida All-Start Classic. Freeman, who's older brother David Freeman (Westland/Wayne Memorial) played in 10 games as a true freshman receiver at FSU in 2008, helped Inkster to a state runner-up finish by running for more than 1,200 yards his senior campaign.
Along the offensive line, the Bulldogs will welcome three new faces in Quartney Bolter (Grand Rapids/Catholic Central), Samuel Parker (Muskegon/Mona Shores) and Michael Wulf (Oswego, Ill.). Bolter earned Grand Rapids Press All-Area Dream Team honors in helping Tim Rogers' Grand Rapids Catholic Central Cougars to a state semifinal berth while Parker attained All-Ottawa Kent (OK) Black First Team recognition at Muskegon Mona Shores. Wulf is a highly-regarded out-of-state signee from Oswego, Ill.
"We added some talented skill position players on the offensive side of the ball that we're excited about and the linemen we signed in combination with the guys we brought in last year give us a great foundation to build from up front," Pierce said.
Six of Ferris State's defensive additions came in the secondary with four at the linebacker position and four up front.
The newcomers in the defensive backfield include a pair of Traverse City West prep teammates in Jonathan Flynn (Traverse City/West) and John Purdy (Traverse City/West). The other additions are in-state products Brandon Bryant (Novi) and Devon German (Muskegon) as well as two out-of-state newcomers in Michael Smith (East Chicago, Ind./Central) and Dion Strong (Bolingbrook, Ill./Plainfield North).
Flynn and Purdy led Traverse City West to a Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) Division I State Playoff berth and a Big North Championship in 2008. Both were all-area picks and Purdy was a Detroit Free Press Honorable Mention All-State quarterback after tossing 12 TD passes and throwing for 1,324 yards in the air. German helped Muskegon to a 14-0 mark, a Division 2 state crown and a top 10 national ranking while playing for prep coach Tony Annese. Bryant received honorable mention All-Metro accolades and was ranked among the state's top 200 senior players this past fall. Both Smith and Strong had successful prep careers and are among FSU's six out-of-state signees.
The Bulldogs added four linebackers to help fill a void in the middle of the defensive unit where five of Ferris' top six linebackers completed their eligibility. The group includes Ross, Max Banktson (Frankfort), Kyle Coburn (Gregory/Chelsea) and Trent Page (Leslie). A prep teammate of McClary at Florida's Charlotte High School, Ross was a three-year starter at middle linebacker for prep head coach Binky Waldrop and was chosen as his area's Defensive Player of the Year. Banktson claimed Associated Press Division 7-8 All-State First Team laurels and Coburn received Heritage West All-Area and All-Southeastern Conference White Division First Team honors. Page was a Division 5-6 All-State pick who made 59 stops and ran for nearly 1,500 yards on the ground last fall as Leslie advanced to the state championship game.
FSU's four signees on the defensive line are Banay Jones (Flint/Hamady), Kevin Kleine (Davison), Brandon Lane (Davison/Livonia Franklin) and William Mazur (Comstock Park). Ferris lost three of its front four starters from last season, including three-time All-American, Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year finalist and current NFL prospect Jake Visser.
A talented defensive lineman who was regarded as one of the state's top interior prospects, Jones twice received first-team all-conference honors and was a three-year starter at Flint Hamady. He's also the largest of FSU's 26 signees at 285 pounds. Kleine recorded 55 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles in guiding Davison to a Division 2 Semifinal appearance. The 6-4 Lane tallied 97 stops, including 33 solo hits to go with four sacks. Mazur was a first-team all-area choice and received significant Division I interest at Comstock Park.
"Defensively, we added some top-level kids in some areas we needed to address and we also signed some guys with great speed in the secondary who will help us down the road," said Pierce.
Finally, the Bulldogs also inked three specialists in Fletcher Spears (Clio), Taylor Trim (Dansville) and Mitchell Voss (Valparaiso/Wheeler), who will join the competition to fill the placekicking and punting duties left void with the loss of former All-GLIAC honoree Jim Yates, who handled virtually all of the kicking duties the last two seasons.
"We were able to add some guys who have the ability to compete with a couple of returning players already on-campus for our kicking and punting duties," said Pierce. "It's an area where we needed to create some competition and I think these guys all have the ability to compete for those jobs."
A three-sport athlete, Spears received All-Metro First Team recognition after averaging 39.8 yards per punt and setting a league record with nine made field goals last fall. Trim played a number of positions for Dansville High School in the Aggies' program. The 6-1 Voss comes in as a highly-regarded kicker who made 60-of-62 PAT's and averaged 40.3 yards per punt his final season. Voss set school records with 41 touchbacks on kickoffs in addition to setting school all-time bests with a 49-yard made field goal and 64-yard punt.
FSU's 26 signees are expected to help offset the loss of 17 seniors who completed their eligibility with the Bulldogs last fall. The class was assembled by Pierce and his staff, including first-year Bulldog offensive line coach Eric Ravellette who serves as the program's recruiting coordinator.
"As a class, we placed an emphasis on both academic and athletics success and we have an outstanding group of kids that posess strong character and come from good backgrounds," Pierce said.
The Bulldogs registered their fifth winning season in the last six years with a 6-5 overall record in 2008. It represented the program's ninth winning campaign in 14 years under Pierce and marks the 14th time in the last 20 years the Bulldogs have finished above .500 for the year. FSU was an even 5-5 in Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) action.
Ferris is tentatively slated to open the 2009 campaign on Saturday, Aug. 29, by hosting the Tiffin Dragons in a non-league tilt at Top Taggart Field with kickoff set for 7 p.m. (EDT) in Big Rapids. FSU will play five home games next fall on-campus in addition to hosting Michigan Tech on Saturday, Oct. 3, at 7 p.m. (EDT) in the "Battle At The Ballpark" at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park. The Bulldogs' complete 2009 schedule will be announced in the near future.
Please visit this link for FSU's 2009 recruiting class: