Army Signing Day Review: Secondary

Jeff Monken has signed one of the top Army recruiting classes in years. will now review that class, position by position. In this segment we discuss the defensive backs.

Last season the Army secondary was the most disappointing area of the the defense despite generally solid play by the starting cornerbacks. The Black Knights allowed 67.3% of the passes to be completed against them, gave up 31 touchdown receptions and over 237 passing yards a game. This unit has suffered a lot of attrition since 2013 and the overall play of the safeties was subpar most of last year. The staff landed what looks to be a good group of defensive backs this recruiting season. Army's helped itself at free safety when it landed direct admit James Gibson (6-2", 200) from Westfield high school in Virginia. Gibson was a three year starter for Westfield. Last fall he made 50 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three interceptions and blocked a punt. Gibson was regarded as one of the best defensive backs in Virginia. As a senior he was named Virginia's Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-State, the Region's Defensive Player of the Year, First team All-Region, First team All-Metro, District Defensive Player of the Year and Gibson was named first team All-District for a second consecutive year. His recruitment shows how Jeff Monken smartly leverages his summer camps unlike the Ellerson staff which didn't hold one until their final season. Gibson's cousin had attended a military school and hated it and advised him not to bother to visit West Point for the camp. Monken staff was able to get Gibson on post last summer and he enjoyed West Point and was named the best safety at the camp. Gibson was offered and committed the following month to Black Knight defensive coordinator Jay Bateman. Gibson is a potential impact player. He is big, fast and a very physical hitter who can blow up his opponents. He has the talent to possibly compete for a starting spot as a plebe. Gibson selected Army over offers from Nevada, Old Dominion, Fordham, James Madison, Elon, Liberty, Norfolk State and Maine.

Cornerback A.J. Keene (5-8", 160) from Calvary Day high school in Georgia Keene was named the Georgia’s 3-A East first team as a defensive back last year. Keene was a four year starter at cornerback and in the offensive backfield. As a cornerback Keene posted 50 tackles, five tackles for loss, three interceptions and five pass breakups. He also returned a pick for a score. He recorded over 1,000 all-purpose yards as a senior rushing and receiving and returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.

Keen was First team All-State, All-Region, and All-Metro in the Greater Savannah area and was named to the team. A.J.'s parents served in the Air Force. Keene chose Army over offers from Butler, Campbell, Cumberland, Georgetown and Lenoir–Rhyne. He'll start his career at the United States Military Academy Prep school. Jaylon McClinton of Charlotte Christian School in North Carolina committed to defensive coordinator Jay Bateman. McClinton is a 5-foot-10, 185-pound cornerback who is a physical and projects to boundary cornerback. McClinton played both offense and defense. On defense he made 44 tackles, two interceptions, including a touchdown return, forced two fumbles and a fumble recovery. On offense he ran for 129 yards, a 4.3 average and a touchdown. Jaylon made 13 catches for 253 yards and three touchdowns. As a returner he had a 99-yard kickoff return for touchdown and a 45-yard punt return for a touchdown. McClinton earned first team All-State and all-conference honors as a defensive back. Jaylon McClinton selected Army over Bryant and Butler. He will begin his career at United States Military Academy Prep school.

Marcus Hyatt (5-10", 170) is a speedy cover cornerback from Woodward Academy in Georgia. Hyatt made 51 tackles, intercepted five passes and broke up six passes. Hyatt ran a 4.57 forty yard dash and had a 36.5-inch vertical at the 2014 US Army National Combine in San Antonio. Hyatt played football, basketball and baseball. Hyatt selected Army over Princeton, Dartmouth, Elon and Tennessee Tech. Richard Hanson (5-10", 170) was voted the top cornerback at Army’s prospect camp and committed to Army's defensive coordinator Jay Bateman last July. Last season Hanson picked off three passes and defensed at least seven others. Richard is a smooth cornerback with good coverage skills. He is from a military family with his grandfather a Lieutenant Colonel who served for more than 30 years in the Army. Hanson was a first team All-Conference selection as a junior and second team All-Conference as a senior in Virginia Class 5A in the Greater Richmond area. He is expected to be a direct admit.

Direct admit Boomer Bakich (5-11', 185) from Highland Park, Texas chose Army over a chance to walk on at his father's alma mater Notre Dame and an offer from Columbia. His dad, Huntley, was a linebacker for the Irish. Bakich was a three-year starter at Highland Park where he started a school-record 38 games in a row. As a senior he made 81 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, intercepted a pass, broke up 17 others, forced two fumbles and recovered two more. Bakich was named first team All-District. Free safety D’Angelo Amos (6-1", 170) was a two year starter at Meadowbrook high school in Virginia. As a senior he picked off four passes and played quarterback. Amos is a good athlete who was moved around a lot in high school playing safety, cornerback, running back, quarterback, and wide receiver. He also lettered in basketball and track & field. The free safety spot he played as a senior seems to be his best position. He had others offers from James Madison, VMI, Davidson and Randolph-Macon. He will play this season at USMAPS.

Alassane Niang (6-1", 180) is a raw cornerback with a high ceiling upside from Highland high school in Utah. Niang started the past two years on both sides of the ball at cornerback and wide receiver. Niang finished his senior season with 23 tackles. He made 21 receptions for 297 yards, a 14.1 average and three scores. He excelled on special teams and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Niang could be a diamond in the rough since he only started playing football in high school. He and his family are originally from Mali, Africa where he played soccer. Niang has good size, strength and speed. Alassane selected West Point over offers from Hawaii and Weber State. His teammate and fellow defensive back at Highland high school, Thomas Pembroke, also signed with Army. The 6-foot, 180 pound Pembroke was a three year starter at safety and running back for Highland high school. Pembroke finished the 2014 season with 37 tackles and led Highland in rushing with 687 yards and scored three touchdowns.

One of the eight Army recruits from Virginia was Tank Scott (6-0", 185) who was a three year starter at Highland Springs high school. Scott played cornerback, wide receiver and wildcat quarterback last season. On defense he recorded 58 tackles, two interceptions and forced three fumbles. As a receiver Tank had 25 catches for 336 yards and two touchdowns. Scott runs well and earned All-Conference honors last year. He also had offers from Norfolk State, Virginia Union, Virginia State and Lenoir-Rhyne. Direct admit Spencer Sheff chose Army over an offer from Air Force. Sheff is a 5-10, 195-pound strong safety who played on both sides of the ball at Elk Grove high school in California. The two- star recruit is an intense, aggressive strong safety who posted 86 tackles, picked off one pass and cause a fumble. As a running back he carried the ball 146 times for 1,013 rushing yards, a 6.9 average and 14 touchdowns.

He recorded four one-hundred yard rushing performances as a senior but his skill set project better to defense. Sheff flashed above average speed when he was timed at a legit 4.64 speed in the forty yard dash at an ESPN combine.

The Black Knights have benefitted over the years on signing day in landing talented players who were injured as seniors and selected Army because the football factories never offered or withdrew scholarships. Players like Mike Viti ended up at Army because they lost their potential Division I scholarships due to a senior year injury. The Black Knights saw history repeat itself with the commitment of safety Rashaad Bolton (5-11", 205) from Veterans High School in Georgia. Bolton, a three-year starter, was regarded as a standout defender entering his senior season. As a junior he played strong safety and running back and made 58 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two interceptions, eleven pass defensed, two forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and had one defensive touchdown. Colleges such as Miami, Georgia Tech, Appalachian State and Cincinnati had expressed some early interest. Unfortunately for Bolton he broke his leg in the opening game of his senior year and he missed the rest of the season. Army had already offered and Bolton decided to accept. If fully recovered he has the ability to eventually compete for a starting job.

Lawrence Stevens is a 5-foot-10, 178-pound cornerback from prep powerhouse Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey. The Ironmen have won 14 state championships. Stevens was a three year starter who was a cornerback and used at times at running back. He intercepted three passes and had an interception returned for a touchdown last season. Lawrence had a pair of rushing touchdowns and blocked two punts as a senior. Stevens offers good speed and coverage skills. He was named first team All-Bergen County and to the All-State teams the last two years. Stevens chose Army over offers from Connecticut and Syracuse. Luke West (5-11", 200) is a safety who was a three year starter at San Angelo Central high school in Texas. As a senior he made 63 tackles and two interceptions. During his junior season he recorded 68 tackles and picked off two passes. West is a heady, aggressive safety who hits everything that moves. West chose Army over offers from Air Force, S.F. Austin and Wofford.

Strong safety Thai Wright (5-11', 185) was a four-year starter at Wilson Memorial high school in Virginia. Wright was an impact player who posted 99 tackles and made six interceptions last season. Thai was named First team All State and All Region as a defensive back. The ball hawking Wright finished his career with 13 interceptions and 37 pass deflections. Wright is a physical player who will bring the lumber despite not being the biggest player.

He made 346 tackles in his high school career including 12 tackles for a loss. Wright didn't attract any other FBS offers since he is a undersized safety but his playmaking ability and on the field production was impressive. Nick Alonso was a four year starter at cornerback for Marysville Pilchuck high school in Washington. Alonso is an undersized 5-foot-8, 160-pound cornerback with average at best speed but he was a very reliable and productive player in high school. Last year he picked off two passes and earned First team all-league for the second consecutive year and second team All-State.

Army received a late local commitment when Dario Highsmith a cornerback prospect and quarterback from Middletown, Connecticut, decided to join the program after initially agreeing to walk-on at UConn just before signing day. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Highsmith threw for 705 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He rushed for 2,056 yards and 24 scores while playing both quarterback and tailback. Dario was named as the Hartford Courant’s 2014 offensive player of the year. Highsmith ran for 2,565 yards and 27 touchdowns during his junior season and earned 2013 Gatorade state player of the year honors. Highsmith was listed as a projection defensive back with UConn and other schools but with Army's spread option system he's likely to remain at quarterback. His father played football at Rhode Island. Dario was also heavily recruited by Yale and offered scholarships to play at Fordham and Monmouth.

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