Craig Bagnell, University of Mary head football coach, unveiled his biggest, and what he believes is his best recruiting class on Wednesday.
Highlighted by Legacy High quarterback Rhett Clements, the No. 1 QB on the Marauders’ board, Bagnell and his staff netted 45 new players on national signing day. The final 2020 tally likely will surpass 50 as recruiting never truly ends.
Due to typical offseason attrition, the 2020 class needed to be larger. The roster of returners stands at 61 with spring football just over one month away (March 9).
“There were eight guys we let go. It was time for them to move on. They didn’t want to practice hard, didn’t want to work hard, didn’t want to go to class and those are diseases to your culture, diseases to your team,” Bagnell said. “There were six other guys that left because this wasn’t for them.
“People hear coaches talk about culture and maybe roll their eyes, but it’s a big deal, it really is. This class of student-athletes we’re bringing into our program understand that and we’re excited to have them.”
It was more than just quantity, however. This class, Bagnell’s third as head coach but only second with a full recruiting cycle, also brings quality.
“This is our most talented class, 100 %,” he said.
The 45-player class also is the most balanced roster-wise, which has been a couple years in the making.
When Bagnell took over two winters ago, the roster was out of whack scholarship-wise.
“There was a $200,000 difference between offense and defense in scholarships and I wasn’t going to come in and start cutting guys. That’s not how we want to run this program,” Bagnell said. “Last year we were able to get that gap down to $80,000. With this class, we were able to recruit an actual football team. Everything is more balanced out now.”
The numbers reflect that.
In all, 26 players of the 2020 class are projected to play on the defensive side of the ball, with 19 on offense.
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Clements, a three-sport standout at Legacy, is the lone quarterback, but he’s the one Bagnell really wanted.
“Rhett had other options. He’s a talented kid that a lot of programs would love to have,” Bagnell said. “When he told me he was coming, I kinda jumped out of my skin.”
Clements is expected to be redshirted. The Marauders have four QBs returning next season, all with NCAA Division II starts under their belts – Logan Nelson, Jordan Velarde, Avery Gould and Jason Hoekstra, who was the quarterback at Legacy before Clements.
Breaking down the numbers, the biggest position padded was linebacker (11). Eight wide receivers and defensive backs were signed. Thirteen lineman -- seven on defense and six on offense -- were signed, including Clements’ teammate at Legacy Josh Haag, who flipped from MSU-Moorhead late in the game.
“That was a really big get for us,” Bagnell said. “We think Josh has a really bright future.”
Rounding out the class were two running backs, one tight end, one long snapper and one kicker, Adam Richter of St. Mary’s.
Six players already are on campus working out with the team, including instant-impact defensive back Tylen Small, who played last season at South Dakota State.
“Tylen’s going to be a dude for us,” Bagnell said of the Florida native. “He wasn’t just on the team last season, he was out there playing.”
Others Bagnell singled out as potential early contributors include linebackers Sam Suggs (Mount San Jacinto College) and NDSCS's Jamire Jackson, offensive lineman Nate Eschleman (Butte Community College), defensive back D’Angelo Johnson (Reedley College) and wide receivers Brandon Morris (Shasta College) and Riley Potthast (Butte CC).
Cam Woods, a tight end from Las Vegas by way of Bellflower, Calif., and speedy wide receiver Collin Gapen are among the true freshmen who could push for playing time come fall camp.
Nine of the 45-player haul are from North Dakota, including Mandan’s Austin Frey, an all-state running back expected to be moved to wide receiver. Cooper Glenn, another Legacy product, is projected as a linebacker. A.J. Anderson, a long snapper from Fargo South, was in attendance on Wednesday at the unveiling announcement held on the U-Mary campus.
Another of the North Dakota signees has played against the Marauders at the Bismarck Community Bowl. Offensive linemen Jaime Froysland, a Fargo South grad, spent the past two years at St. Cloud State, which dropped its football program in December.
In all, players from 14 different states were inked.
“It’s a total team effort, no question about it,” Bagnell said. “From all the people in our athletic department, to the professors on campus meeting with kids, and of course our coaches, who put in countless hours throughout this process, I’m just really appreciative to everybody that puts so much time and effort into getting this done. It’s a lot of work, but we’re really excited about these student-athletes and what they’re going to bring to the University of Mary.”
Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org