2015 Class is Foundational

Signing Day has come and gone. All of the recruiting experts are busy analyzing every class and how each school did from many different angles. This school got a few superstars. That school filled some needs but missed out on their top targets. Many schools may have even come up short by focusing on what they thought they wanted instead of getting what they needed at this moment.

Then there are the schools that needed to fill immediate needs and add a comprehensive class meant to serve as the starting point for future classes to build off of moving forward. To build a program for long-term success there needs to be a core group of guys that drive the program forward. This is the category that Arkansas State fits into at this stage in the development of its program.

The Red Wolves have seen its share of change and turmoil with having 5 different head coaches in 5 years. Despite the disruption this can cause, the program has managed to maintain a high level of success. One of the reasons it was able to do that was the group of 5th-year seniors that played their final games in the recent GoDaddy Bowl. It’s safe to say that this core group helped keep the program together through all of the changes. Well, now that group is gone and the normal attrition and loss of players along the way could have put the program in a bind. Coach Blake Anderson needed to sign a strong class to fill this void, and it looks like he and his coaching staff were able to do that this year.

Offensive Coordinator Walt Bell commented, “We feel great about this class. It’s a foundational class that we had to bring in this year.”

“Foundational class” is a great way to put it. If you’re going to “Build a Monster” you have to have a foundation to build off of for depth and longevity. The Red Wolves have key players returning next season, but there were also going to be holes left behind by departing players that could have stunted any chances for growth and success. Plus, there were areas on the team that needed improvement if this program is going to reach the goals set forth by Coach Anderson. This class, a “two-part story” according to Coach Anderson, filled those immediate holes and also helped shore up the areas of need heading into next season.

Coach Anderson remarked, “Our class really was a tale of two stories. The December guys were where we really had to battle to secure them becoming Red Wolves. We had to beat out the top teams in our conference to sign those early enrollees. For some of them we were working the phones that morning to get them signed. That was crucial because those are the guys we needed to fill immediate holes and it was important to fill those holes now, not later. The guys we just signed now will help do that as well, but they will also add depth to areas where needed to build up the roster.”

The Red Wolves were decimated by injuries down the stretch on defense that really made it hard to stop the run a consistent basis in those final games. Young guys were thrown into the mix because the coaches had no other choice as they tried to find the right formula to battle those injuries and put guys in a position to succeed. Some of those struggles were addressed with the early enrollees that have already been on campus for a month.

Coach Anderson explains, “We struggled to stop the run. In our defense you have to do two fundamental things to be successful. You have to be strong at the shade and the three on the interior part of the defensive line to keep people off your linebackers. We addressed that with three immediate big, powerful guys with high energy. Second, you have physical and athletic safeties that can play over top your corners as they stop the run. We brought in two guys with nasty mentalities that fit this exact need. So we really infused 5 guys immediately on defense that will accelerate the unit as a whole with the guys we have coming back.”

One aspect of securing a foundational class is what those players can do on the field. But the other factor that may play an even larger role is what those players provide off the field. It is key for a program to have an identity that feeds into everything they do. With the Red Wolves, it all starts with Faith, Family, and Fun. To make that a successful reality the program needs guys that show that in how they work and how they lead.

According to Coach Anderson, that’s what they are getting from the early enrollees. “Those December guys, one month in, have already made an impact from a work ethic standpoint and from a leadership standpoint. That’s exactly what we meant by this being a foundational type class. Guys that set the example of what we stand for here and how our program is built.”

Part two of this story has to do with the rest of the class that just signed last week. These players help fill needs and depth at many different positions on both sides of the ball. It’s a talented class as many recruiting analysts ranked the Red Wolves’ class #1 in the Sun Belt Conference. The impressive thing about the class is that most of them were committed since last August. However, that didn’t stop some of the big schools from trying to poach these players away from Arkansas State.

Coach Anderson explained, “We had to fight to hold onto 4-5 guys that had Power 5 teams make a run at them from schools like Mississippi State, Missouri, and Colorado. We won those battles because of the relationships we built over the last year. In fact, most of these guys have been committed since August. That tells me they wanted to be Red Wolves and that’s what we want. We commit to them and we want them committed to Arkansas State.”

This point is one schools like Arkansas State can’t take lightly in any recruiting cycle. When they secure commitments early in the process, it puts those players on the radar of recruiting services. Soon they then end up on the radars of schools in the SEC or Big 12. Then it changes from finding guys to sign to trying to hold on to who you’ve got committed. The key in the Red Wolves’ case appears to be the method in which this staff approaches recruiting.

According to Coach Anderson, it’s a total team effort on behalf of the staff. “The relationships. That’s the bottom line. Every kid we signed had relationships with multiple coaches. We never recruit a player with one coach. It’s a team effort and we want our guys to have relationships with multiple coaches. We truly staff recruit and that’s why I think we held onto our guys down the stretch when big schools were coming after them. When Colorado made a run at Justin Clifton, he didn’t want to have to call Coach Taylor, Coach Johnson, Coach Cauthen, Coach Tucker, and Coach Anderson to say he changed his mind. He has great relationships with all of us and that family tie is what helped keep our guys.”

The second part of this class are guys the coaching staff is hoping will form the foundation they need to keep building this program to the heights they want to reach. It’s their first full recruiting cycle and the staff wanted to make an immediate impact on the program with this class.

“When you look at the young guys, this is our first class where we had a full year to get to know them. Get to know their personalities and what makes them tick. We’ve had them to campus multiple times and got to work them out ourselves and really get to see who they were as people and who they were as players. We didn’t just go out and look for guys that could run, look for guys that could catch, or look for guys that could throw the ball. This was more about all of the intangibles. Yes, you could watch film and like how they played and know they can help you on the field. But this was more about seeing if they could be the glue that holds this program together. The group is the first picture of what we want our program to be in terms of character, desire, and the attitude that we want the foundation of this program to represent. Everybody we brought in fits our Faith, Family, and Fun atmosphere.”

Overall it appears the coaching staff accomplished all of its goals over the course of this recruiting cycle. The set a plan and they executed that plan. Each recruit was brought in for a specific purpose and now that this class is signed and secured, the staff can turn their attention to building on to this foundation. It’s clear from their ability to recruit from 11 different states that the approach they have developed has paid dividends now and will help them in the future. All of it started around their mission statement. Faith, Family, and Fun isn’t just a motto on the field. It’s a mission statement that affects the program on the field, off the field, and on the recruiting trail. In order to “Build a Monster” you have to have a strong foundation to build off of and it appears that this year’s recruiting class is that foundation.