CARBONDALE — SIU football coach Nick Hill announced a 2018 class high on skill players Wednesday, the first day of the NCAA's new early signing period.
The 16-player class, all high school seniors, featured two quarterbacks, running back Tremayne Lee of Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, two tight ends and two wide receivers. Lee, the Springfield Journal-Register metro player of the year in 2016, rushed for 1,200 yards and 21 touchdowns on 142 carries this past season.
With eight of the Salukis' top 10 offensive linemen slated to return, the class only had two frontmen, 6-foot-5, 265-pound Beau Branyan of Decatur St. Teresa and 6-5, 305-pound Brett Groves of Cary-Groves High School. Jacob Traxler, a 6-4, 225-pound running back/defensive lineman at Eldorado High School, and Miguel Rodriguez (6-3, 223) of Viera (Florida) High School were the only two defensive linemen in the class.
All 16 share SIU's culture of substance over recruiting stars, Hill said.
"I've said this before in who we're signing, it's easy to get caught up in the highlight reels. Now that I'm completing my second year, it's seeing who is being successful," Hill said. "Sometimes it's the lowest recruited kid on the list that ends up being the best kid. Sam Skinner did that last year. He was a late signing that didn't have any offers. He came up and he was going to be our opening day starter as a true freshman. It's just like the mentality of being a worker and being low maintenance and fitting into the culture that we have here. Toughness. Going to class. Appreciating the school work."
Traxler, the Black Diamond Conference MVP, helped the Eagles to an 8-3 mark in 2017. He rushed for 1,185 yards and 12 touchdowns on 128 carries, according to the Harrisburg Daily Register, and had a team-best 107 stops on defense. He picked off four passes, forced four fumbles and recovered one.
"He's as good looking a recruit, I don't care where you go to find 'em, as you'll see," Hill said. "When he walks in the room, he looks like a man. He's 6-foot-4, 225 pounds. Not an ounce of fat on him. He's a worker. We're just fired up. He brings a mentality that we need to keep adding to our team, so, he's got a bright future."
Nic Baker, a two-time state champion at Class 4A Rochester, and Austin Reed (6-2, 210) of St. Augustine (Florida) High School were the two quarterbacks. Reed led St. Augustine to the state semifinals this year. They will compete with redshirt freshman Brandon George, and, possibly, Matt DeSomer, for minutes in 2018 behind returning starter Sam Straub.
Junior Tanner Hearn is one of three players that are leaving the program, Hill said, along with cornerback ShawnTrez Spates and outside linebacker Kamahl March. All three left on good terms, Hill said.
The early signing period, an NCAA first for football this year, stretches to Friday. Hill said more players could join the 16 he signed on Wednesday in the 2018 class, including some possible FBS transfers, who would be announced in January.