BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Head Football Coach Mike Sanford and his WKU coaching staff welcomed 23 new members to the Hilltopper family on Wednesday during National Signing Day, the unofficial holiday of college football recruiting across America.
Sanford, who was announced as WKU’s 20th head coach on Dec. 14, quickly but diligently built the class of 2017, or “#ThePursuit17” as the program calls it.
Learn more about signing day activities here.
“The Pursuit was definitely aptly named for the last 28 days since our staff reported on Jan. 3,” Sanford said. “It’s something that we wanted to set a tone for every aspect of our program. We wanted to pursue the best players that fit Western Kentucky, and most importantly, fit our vision for this program going forward. The one thing we knew when we got here was we were going to get the best 23 to 25 players to populate this recruiting class that would fit what we were looking for going forward.”
The top goal on Sanford’s board for WKU is to graduate every player on the roster. In keeping with that mantra, the combined cumulative GPA of all 23 signees is a 3.04, and 16 of the 23 signees also served as captains on the previous teams.
It was also important for Sanford and company to squeeze a year of relationship-building into less than a month, something the head coach thought the Hilltoppers excelled at to build this signing class.
“I think we effectively built those relationships, and more important is the fact that those players bought into the vision and bought into everything this university and this program have to offer,” Sanford said. “We feel like we got the 23 best players to fit this roster and to buy into the vision we have as a new coaching staff.”
By position, WKU signed 12 offensive players, 10 defensive players and one specialist long snapper. On offense, the Hilltoppers added four offensive linemen, three tight ends, two running backs, two wide receivers and a quarterback. Defensively, WKU added four defensive backs, four defensive linemen and three linebackers.
Name Ht. Wt. Pos. Hometown High School
1. Kyle Bailey 6-0 205 LB Bremen, Ga. Bremen HS
2. Roger Cray* 5-10 170 DB Lake City, Fla. Columbia HS
3. Mik’Quan Deane 6-4 240 TE Tulsa, Okla. Northeastern Oklahoma JC/Memorial HS
4. Caleb Etheridge 6-2 290 OL Forsyth, Ga. Mary Persons HS
5. Jaylon George* 6-3 270 DL Atlanta, Ga. Northeastern Oklahoma JC/N. Clayton HS
6. Juwuan Jones 6-3 235 LB Sugar Hill, Ga. Lanier HS
7. Carson Jordan* 6-3 265 DL Poplarville, Miss. Mississippi Gulf Coast CC/Hancock HS
8. Antwon Kincade 5-11 190 DB Valdosta, Ga. Valdosta HS
9. Kris Leach 6-6 225 TE Bealeton, Va. Liberty HS
10. DeAngelo Malone 6-3 210 DL Ellenwood, Ga. Cedar Grove HS
11. Calder Maria 6-4 225 DL Jonesboro, Ga. Jonesboro HS
12. Jordan Meredith* 6-3 270 OL Bowling Green, Ky. Bowling Green HS
13. Preston Mixon 6-4 300 OL Montgomery, Ala. Jefferson Davis HS
14. Jakairi Moses 5-9 185 RB Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. William T. Dwyer HS
15. Ben Reeder 6-2 210 LS Greenville, S.C. J L Mann HS
16. Latheron Rodgers-Anderson 6-1 190 DB Columbia, S.C. Ridge View HS
17. Dionte Ruffin 6-0 180 DB Dallas, Ga. Paulding County HS
18. Josh Samuel 5-11 200 RB Greenville, S.C. Central Gwinnett HS
19. Davis Shanley 6-2 190 QB Duluth, Ga. South Forsyth HS
20. Jacquez Sloan 5-9 165 WR Atlanta, Ga. Grady HS
21. Cole Spencer 6-4 285 OL Louisville, Ky. Trinity HS
22. Steven Witchoskey 6-3 240 TE Plant City, Fla. Durant HS
23. Tariq Young* 5-11 185 WR Lakeland, Fla. Lakeland HS
* – indicates student-athlete is already enrolled at WKU
6-0, 200, Linebacker
Bremen HS (Bremen, Ga.)
Kyle Bailey comes to The Hill following an outstanding prep career at Bremen High School for coach Davis Russell. A two-way player and three-year starter for the Blue Devils, Bailey was a standout linebacker and running back and rushed for more than 1,700 yards, including a school-record 307 yards against Adairville, as a senior to earn Offensive Player of the Year for region 6-AAA from the Atlanta Journal Constitution while the Georgia Sports Writers Association named Bailey to the Class 3-A All-State Second Team as a running back. Bailey registered 81 tackles including 14 tackles for loss from his linebacker position as a senior and is a three-star prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings.
5-10, 170, Defensive Back
Columbia HS (Lake City, Fla.)
Roger Cray joins the Hilltoppers in January after a standout prep career at Columbia High School for coach Brian Allen. An exciting secondary prospect from Lake City, Fla., Cray prepped at the same high school as recently-graduated Hilltopper Shaquille Johnson. Cray competed on the varsity squad in all four years of high school football and ranks in the top 250 nationally (217) at cornerback. Cray is a two-star prospect in the 247Sports composite ranking and was an Associated Press All-State 7A first team member on defense, Florida’s highest division.
6-4, 230, Tight End
Northeastern Oklahoma A&M/Memorial HS (Tulsa, Okla.)
Mik’Quan Deane comes to The Hill after a junior college career at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. As a sophomore at NEO, the 6-foot-4, 230 lbs., Deane hauled in 22 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns. His freshman season, Deane tallied 14 catches, 127 yards and three touchdowns. Deane is rated the No. 4 junior college tight end nationally by 247sports.com and No. 67 overall in the JUCO rankings. Deane is a consensus top-100 JUCO recruit across all major recruiting services.
6-2, 290, Offensive Line
Mary Persons HS (Forsyth, Ga.)
Caleb Etheridge becomes a Hilltopper by way of Mary Persons High School where he helped anchor the offensive front for coach Brian Nelson. Etheridge, a Georgia Sports Writers Association All-State first team member in Class 4-A, led his team to a semifinal showing in the 2016 Georgia High School Association Class AAAA Playoffs before losing to eventual state champion Cartersville. Behind Etheridge, Mary Persons ranked sixth in all of Georgia’s Class 4A in total rushing, tallying 2,965 total yards and eighth overall in yards per game at 228.1. The Bulldogs averaged 351.7 total yards per game, also good for eighth in the classification out of 43 schools. Etheridge is a two-star prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings.
6-3, 270, Defensive Line
Northeastern Oklahoma A&M/North Clayton HS (Atlanta, Ga.)
Jaylon George comes to WKU after two seasons at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. A 6-3, 260-pound lineman who prepped at North Clayton High School in Atlanta, George was third on the Golden Norsemen with 77 tackles and 9.5 sacks, while adding a team-best 12 tackles for loss in his redshirt freshman season. George had multiple sacks in five contests and multiple tackles for loss in three, and forced three fumbles. For his performance over the course of the 10-game season, he was named Honorable Mention All-SWJC Conference. George was given a 79 overall rating by 247Sports, which ranks him as the No. 23 defensive lineman in this transfer class.
6-3, 235, Linebacker
Lanier HS (Sugar Hill, Ga.)
Juwuan Jones joins the program after an all-state career at Lanier High School for coach Korey Mobbs. A first team all-state selection in Georgia’s 6A classification by the Georgia Sports Writers Association, Jones built a legacy at Lanier with 136 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and three sacks, as a senior. During his junior season, Jones tallied 120 tackles including six for loss to earned second team all-state honors from the Associated Press. Jones helped his Longhorns to an appearance in the GHSA playoffs each of the past three seasons. A three-star recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings, Jones is the No. 29 inside linebacker nationally by Rivals.com and No. 7 in the state of Georgia by Scout.com.
6-3, 265, Defensive Line
Mississippi Gulf Coast CC/Hancock HS (Poplarville, Miss.)
Carson Jordan comes to WKU after two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Jordan improved from 22 tackles in his freshman season to 46 as a sophomore, while adding two sacks and five tackles for loss for the Bulldogs, including at least one takedown behind the line of scrimmage in four consecutive games. The 6-3, 265-pound defensive end earned All-MACJC South Division Second Team honors in 2016. A Poplarville, Miss., native, Jordan played for head coach Rocky Gaudin at Hancock High School, where he accumulated 90 tackles, four sacks and nine tackles for loss as a senior.
5-11, 190, Defensive Back
Valdosta HS (Valdosta, Ga.)
Antwon Kincade brings a Georgia 6A State Championship to The Hill after his Valdosta Wildcats won the 2016 Georgia High School Association championship this past season. Kincade produced a first team all-state season for coach Alan Rodemaker as the Wildcats went 14-2. Kincade tallied 90 total tackles (73 solo) as a senior. Kincade is a two-star rated prospect by both Scout.com and Rivals.com.
6-6, 225, Tight End
Liberty HS (Bealeton, Va.)
Kris Leach prepped at Liberty High School for coach Sean Finnerty and comes to The Hill after a standout Virginia prep career. Leach picked up All-Region 4A honorable mention honors from the Northern Virginia Daily as well as All-Conference 22 first team honors at tight end as voted on by the coaches in Conference 22.
6-3, 210, Defensive Line
Cedar Grove HS (Ellenwood, Ga.)
DeAngelo Malone brings a state championship from the Georgia High School Association’s 3A division to The Hill after spending his prep career at Cedar Grove HS under coach Jermaine Smith. Malone racked up 49 tackles, including eight tackles for loss his senior year. He helped the Saints to a 13-2 record and GHSA 3A state title as they took down Greater Atlanta Christian, 30-19. As a senior, Malone picked up Georgia Sports Writer Association All-State first team honors as a defensive lineman as well as All-Metro honors from the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Malone is a three-star prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings and a top-200 player in the state of Georgia by the service.
Calder Marria, Jr.
6-4, 225, Defensive Line
Jonesboro HS (Jonesboro, Ga.)
Calder Marria, Jr., comes to The Hill via Jonesboro High School where he played under coach De’Timothy Floyd. Marria picked up All-Region 4 6A honors as a senior at defensive line for his play on the field which included 22 tackles for loss, two sacks and a pair of pass breakups by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. A two-sport star, including basketball, Marria, is a consensus three-star prospect across all major recruiting services and the No. 97 player out of Georgia for the 2017 class by 247Sports.
6-3, 270, Offensive Line
Bowling Green HS (Bowling Green, Ky.)
Jordan Meredith joins the signing class of 2017 after joining the team for the 2016 seasons as a blueshirt. Meredith, who prepped at Bowling Green High School for coach Kevin Wallace, won a 2015 KHSAA 5A State Championship with the Purples. That season, the Purples finished with the No. 3 scoring offense in 5A (38.3 points per game) and the No. 4 passing offense at 194 yards per game as they went 14-1 on the year. Meredith was a two-star prospect in the 247Sports composite ratings and the No. 22 prospect in Kentucky.
6-4, 295, Offensive Line
Jefferson Davis HS (Montgomery, Ala.)
Preston Mixon comes to The Hill via Jefferson Davis High School where he played for coach Lee Carter. A participant in the prestigious Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game on Dec. 10 in his hometown of Montgomery, Ala., Mixon helped his offense average 310 yards of total offense per game over an 11-game season and helped to anchor an offensive front which produced a pair of 400-yard rushers. Mixon is ranked as a three-star prospect by 247sports.com and ESPN, a two-star by Rivals.com and Scout.com and a top-170 offensive tackle nationally and top-100 player in the state of Alabama.
5-9, 185, Running Back
William T. Dwyer HS (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.)
Jakairi Moses prepped at William T. Dwyer High School under coach Jack Daniels. During his junior year campaign, he posted 144 carries, 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 119.2 yards per game. Moses his senior year tallied 64 carries, 621 yards and seven touchdowns. The all-purpose back also racked up 203 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns out of the backfield in his career for the Gators. Moses is rated a two-star on 247sports.com, scout.com and rivals.com. He is considered the 133rd-best running back in the country and the 374th-best overall prospect in the state of Florida. Moses holds a 3.5 cumulative GPA as a senior.
6-2, 210, Long Snapper
J. L. Mann HS (Greenville, S.C.)
Ben Reeder, the nation’s top rated long snapper, will come to The Hill with a decorated prep career playing for coach Brian Strickland at J. L. Mann High School. Rated as the nation’s best by ProKicker.com and a five-star snapper by Kohl’s, a four-year letterwinner and starter played in over 35 games for the Patriots. Reeder played in the annual Carolina Shrine Bowl between the all-star teams of North and South Carolina on Dec. 15 in Spartanburg, S.C. The longsnapper also earned a spot on the Blue-Grey All-American team playing in the game on Jan. 14 in Jacksonville, Fla. Reeder finished third at the Kohl’s invitation-only 2016 National Scholarship Showcase Camp and won the organization’s Spring Southern Showcase. He carries a 4.25 cumulative GPA to WKU.
6-1, 190, Defensive Back
Ridgeview HS (Columbia, S.C.)
Latheron Rogers-Anderson comes to The Hill after a tremendous dual-role senior season at Ridgeview High School for coach Perry Parks. He finished his season for the Blazers with 869 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with 55 tackles and two interceptions culminating in an invitation to the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives North-South Bowl. Rogers-Anderson helped his team to a second round appearance in the South Carolina Class 4A playoffs and earned All-Region 3 4A honors in the process. A three-star prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings, Rogers-Anderson is ranked as the No. 25 player in the state by 247Sports and the No. 4 safety in the state by Scout.com.
6-0, 180, Defensive Back
Paulding County HS (Dallas, Ga.)
Dionte Ruffin prepped at Paulding County High School for coach Van Spence. The Georgia native and two-way player racked up 58 tackles (32 solo), one interception and three passes deflected at cornerback. On the other side of the ball, Ruffin tallied 17 catches for 260 yards and one touchdown at receiver. He was named the 5A All-Purpose Player of the Year as a senior, building off a junior season which included 49 tackles, four interceptions and six pass breakups to go along with a 20.8 kickoff return average. Ruffin is rated a two-star prospect on 247Sports.com and Rivals.com.
5-11, 200, Running Back
Central Gwinnett HS (Greenville, S.C.)
Josh Samuel spent his prep career at Central Gwinnett High School under coach Todd Wofford. As a senior, Samuel tallied 972 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, including a performance of 75 rushing yards, 102 receiving yards and a touchdown against powerhouse Norcross (11-1). Samuel averaged 123.4 all-purpose yards a game and 5.7 yards per carry. Samuel is ranked as a three-star on 247ports.com and Scout.com and a two-star on Rivals.com. He is considered the 101st-best running back in the country and the 184th-best overall prospect in the state of Georgia.
6-2, 190, Quarterback
South Forsyth HS (Duluth, Ga.)
Quarterback Davis Shanley enjoyed a standout career at South Forsyth High School for coach Jeff Arnette. A quarterback with the ability to beat teams throwing and running, Shanley threw for 1,669 yards and rushed for 471 during his senior season. Over a two-year career, Shanley tallied 4,017 passing yards on 277 of 460 attempts (60.2 percent) and 39 touchdown passes and added 1,094 yards on the ground with 15 rushing scores. As a junior, he was named the Forsyth County News Offensive Player of the Year. Shanley helped lead his team to the GHSA 7A playoffs as a senior in Georgia’s largest division. He is a two-star prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings and the No. 101-ranked pro-style quarterback in the nation.
5-11, 165, Wide Receiver
Grady HS (Atlanta, Ga.)
Jacquez Sloan prepped at Grady High School in Atlanta for coach Earthwind Moreland. The versatile athlete tallied 103 carries, 610 yards and three touchdowns at the running back position his sophomore and junior seasons, before transitioning to receiver his senior year where he racked up 62 catches, 1,252 yards and 13 touchdowns. For his efforts at wideout this past fall, Sloan earned first team all-state by the Georgia Sports Writers Association. Sloan also led the Knights to a 10-2 record and a second round showing in the GHSA 5-A playoffs. He is a two-star on 247sports.com and is the 178th-best athlete in the country.
6-4, 285, Offensive Line
Trinity HS (Louisville, Ky.)
Cole Spencer spent his prep career at Trinity High School under coach Bob Beatty. As a senior, Spencer led the Shamrocks to a KHSAA 6-A state title going 15-0 on the year. Spencer was a three-year letterwinner while contributing to the team his sophomore year in 2014 as Trinity won the state title. Spencer picked up All-State second team honors from the Courier-Journal as a senior. His father and mother both played tennis at the University of Louisville while his aunt was a member of WKU’s women’s basketball team when the Lady Toppers made their run to the Final Four in 1992.
6-3, 240, Tight End
Durant HS (Plant City, Fla.)
Steven Witchoskey prepped at Durant High School under coach Michael Gottman. Witchoskey led the Panthers to an 8-3 record this past fall. The Florida native is considered a two-star prospect according to 247sports.com, scout.com and rivals.com and is ranked as the 184th-best athlete in the country and the 380th-best overall prospect in the state of Florida. Over his Christmas break during his senior year in high school, Witchoskey went on a mission trip to Haiti, particularly in areas impacted by natural disaster, to aide in the rebuilding efforts.
5-11, 185, Wide Receiver
Lakeland HS (Lakeland, Fla.)
Tariq Young joins the Hilltoppers as a part of the class of 2017 after an All-State career at Lakeland High School for coach Bill Castle. As a senior, Young caught 35 passes for 637 yards and six touchdowns. He also returned 12 punts for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Young was named to the Associated Press All-State second team on offense in Florida’s highest division, 7A. A three-star prospect, Young ranks in the top 250 nationally (239) at wide receiver, as well as top 250 in the state of Florida (233).
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