JONESBORO — Butch Jones assembled Arkansas State’s early signing class in a hurry.
From his first team meeting with the Red Wolves to his introductory press conference Wednesday, ASU’s new head football coach had 92 hours to recruit, assemble a staff, meet individually with players and evaluate the roster.
Those efforts resulted in 10 players signing with the Red Wolves on Wednesday. ASU added an 11th signee Friday.
“I believe this will provide great momentum in moving forward toward the next signing day in February,” Jones said Wednesday. “I’d like to thank Matt Wilson and Jon Shalala, our first two hires, for their hard work and efforts and working around the clock. We were together at Tennessee and these two individuals came to us from Mississippi State University, and they kind of understand what it is to recruit at a very high level, the energy and expectations that we will have in our football program.”
Nine of the 11 recruits are high school players. ASU added two transfers in Te’Vailance Hunt, a 6-foot-3 junior wide receiver from Texarkana, Texas, who spent two-plus seasons at TCU, and Alan Lamar, a 5-9, 202-pound senior running back from Olive Branch, Miss., who was All-Ivy League at Yale in 2018.
Jones said Wilson, ASU’s director of player personnel, and Shalala, who will coach a defensive position to be determined, already had relationships with some of the Red Wolves’ new recruits. ASU’s new head coach was familiar with some of them, too.
“I think a lot of the individuals I knew at some point in time, whether it was back in the day at Tennessee or it was being at one of our football camps at Alabama,” Jones said. “There were some relationships that already had been forged there, so that helped, but also it’s a tribute to this great football program and the reputation that it has. When you look around at what we have to offer at Arkansas State, why would a young man not want to come here?”
The Red Wolves signed high school players from seven states, including Little Rock Central offensive lineman Makilan Thomas (6-3, 295). Linebackers Ethan Hassler (6-3, 220) of Collierville, Tenn., and Tristan Shorter (6-0, 190) of Oxford, Miss., will also have a relatively short drive to the ASU campus.
Jones said recruiting will start at home, taking care of Arkansas first.
“I’ve always believed in a four to six-hour radius,” he said. “We’re very fortunate here to have a great, great recruiting base. We’re going to take care of what we call our home base of four to six hours, and we’ll venture into Florida, we’ll venture into a lot of areas. We have a lot of coaches on the staff with Georgia connections.”
ASU signed one player from Florida, running back Bobby McMillian (5-10, 190) of Vero Beach, and one from Georgia, offensive lineman Nason Simmons (6-7, 280) of Canton.
The Red Wolves added two recruits from Texas, quarterback Wyatt Begeal (6-0, 189) of Cibolo and wide receiver Omari Walker (5-9, 175) of McKinney, and two from Alabama, defensive backs Justin Parks (6-1, 180) of Gardendale and Cam Jeffery (6-0, 195) of Tuscaloosa.
Jeffery, who was announced as a signee Friday, is listed as a three-star prospect by multiple recruiting sites, as are five other early signees. Hunt was a four-star recruit at Texas High in Texarkana and started nine games in 2019 at TCU, finishing that season with 20 receptions for 308 yards and a touchdown.
Lamar earned Parade All-America honors at DeSoto (Miss.) Central, where he scored 43 touchdowns as a senior. He was first-team All-Ivy League in 2018 with 685 yards and nine touchdowns in eight games.
Jones said ASU needs to address every position group as it looks toward the Feb. 3 signing date.
“We have to work on the offensive line. Football is played in the interior, so we have to do a great job of recruiting offensive and defensive linemen,” Jones said. “We like to use multiple tight ends as well, so we’re going to have to go out and address the tight end situation. Obviously we’re excited about the quarterback we signed (Wednesday), but I think every position is of need, so we have to do a great job in the evaluation process and finding the right fit for Arkansas State.”
While the Red Wolves will look for immediate help, Jones said they can’t forget the need to develop players, either.
The new ASU coach pointed to Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher as an example. As head coach at Central Michigan, Jones recruited Fisher for the Chippewas.
“I remember walking into a gym and here was a young man who was about 6-foot-5, 240 pounds and could run,” Jones said. “Now he’s 6-6, 320, 330 pounds and he was the No. 1 overall draft pick in the National Football League.
“We’re still going to develop our players, that’s very, very critical. With the dynamics of recruiting, you’re able to supplement your roster and so we’ll continue to do that with looking in the (transfer) portal and grad transfers, but also high school players as well. We’re still going to develop our football players and the basis, the nucleus of our program, will be through the high school ranks.”