Feb 26, 2013, 11:25 AM EDT
Editor’s Note: Over the three weeks following National Signing Day, we will talk with local journalists and bloggers covering our 11 schools to get their take on the teams that they cover. Each day will be devoted to a different program. Today we talk with Mat Schlissel about the Towson Tigers.
What are your general impressions of the Tigers’ signing class?
It was a very deep class. They addressed several needs, which I think started with defensive end and wide receiver. Those along with quarterback were the major needs. The obvious thing that jumps off the page is that they got a lot of speed, especially at wide receiver and at defensive back.
They added a lot with this year’s class. I didn’t necessarily expect the number of guys, but it was pretty impressive not only in quantity but in quality as well.
What impresses you most about this year’s class?
Again, the speed is what jumps out at me most. DeAngelo Stephenson out of South Carolina and Colby Ford from Pennsylvania will bring a lot of speed. They can just absolutely fly. They’ve also added Andre Dessenberg, who had committed to another school originally but ultimately signed with the Tigers. He’s a very big, strong and polished two-star wide receiver Virginia Beach. Isaiah Diaz-Mays out of New Jersey may also end up as a wide receiver. He’s another big kid who can really run. He was a quarterback in high school, so we’ll see how they transition him to wide receiver.
Towson’s signing class of 23 players is among the largest in the league. What factors played into the large size of the class?
They had several needs at defensive end, wide receiver, safety and quarterback. They even need more depth at running back. It just kind of added up and they needed to bring in a number of guys. I don’t think everyone is on full scholarship and there were some partials in there as well.
Like I said, I was a little surprised by the number. I think it came down to them needing players, though, and especially for depth reasons. While the number was a little high, I don’t think they’re finished yet. I think that’s true for many teams.
So we should anticipate some additional guys signing on then?
We’ll have to watch the transfers. Ryan Delaire is a transfer from UMass and was their only announced transfer. I’m sure they have more in the wings, and I think they’ll add a few more transfers at defensive end and possibly at wide receiver after the spring. They could use an experienced wide receiver because they don’t have much returning after losing so much at the wideout with Tom Ryan, Gerrard Sheppard and several others graduating. I don’t think they’re done yet, but we should know more after the spring.
You’ve touched on this already, but what specific holes were the coaching staff looking to fill with this year’s signing class and how successful were they in accomplishing this?
I think they’re still looking to build at defensive end, but along with Delaire they did add two freshmen defensive ends in D’Sean Cummings and Tre’ Bowens. Both are tall defensive ends that will give them height and size at the position. They may not be ready to play right away, but they’re both very talented players.
Wide receiver was certainly a focus of theirs, as was quarterback. At quarterback they brought in Heath Dahlgren out of Frederick, Md., which is where both Rob and Jared Ambrose are from. He’s going to play this spring and will compete after coming in early entry this semester. Quarterback was their other glaring need with Grant Enders graduating, so that should shape up to be the biggest competition within the team this spring.
As you mentioned, the Tigers’ class only includes one transfer at this point. Is this typical of the program’s recruiting classes?
No, not necessarily. They’ll usually have transfers either by now or sometimes add them later on. If you look at recent years, they’ve had a number of transfers come through the program, including Jordan Dangerfield from Hofstra, Romale Tucker from Syracuse and Enders from junior college. One of their biggest recent gets was Monte Gaddis, who’s also a junior college transfer. But typically they’ll add three to five transfers as they have done in the past. They’ve just announced one to date.
As the program continues to grow, though, it will need fewer and fewer transfers. They’ve already shown an ability to get more quality freshmen, so this will be an interesting thing to watch as the program gets better and keeps growing now.
Maryland has long been a boon when it comes to football talent. With 11 Maryland natives in this year’s class, it the Tigers clearly faired very well in recruiting in-state talent. Has this traditionally been the case for the program?
Yes, and I think they’ve only gotten better. When Rob Ambrose was at Connecticut, he heavily recruited Maryland. He always talks about putting up a wall around the state to get most of his targets here in Maryland to stay home. That worked out well this year.
They also had several guys who wanted to go to Towson, but the program just didn’t have room for them. This is different than in years past. James Harrell, Antonio Harris, Brian Charles and Darius Victor are great players from Maryland, so the coaching staff really did a tremendous job with this class in terms of keeping the in-state talent that they were targeting here at home.
Towson has built itself into one of the league’s premier programs over the past several years. What are the biggest factors in the team’s relatively quick turnaround?
Getting the players to believe in your system and getting recruits that fit into your system has been big. Getting the likes of a Terrance West or Grant Enders has been huge for the program as well. In fact, it all really starts at the quarterback position. They’ve had years when they didn’t have a quality quarterback and that really hurt the program. Enders was big for them and ran the offense very well these last few years.
Then you have to have a good offensive line, which grew with Rob after he arrived. Players like Eric Pike, Doug Shaw and Randall Harris were Maryland guys who started here as freshmen and have now developed into incoming seniors who will lead one of the best, if not the best, lines in the conference this year.
I think having a strength coach like Jeremy Pick has improved the team, too. Their first couple of years, the Tigers looked like they were smaller and seemed to get dominated physically. But now they’re the ones dominating physically, and I think a lot of this has to be attributed to Pick and the strength and conditioning program they’ve established.
How do you think this class stacks up to others of years past?
On paper there are certainly not only a lot of players this year, but many quality players as well. It looks to be their best class. There’s a lot of speed and athleticism.
The first class that Rob signed was pretty darn good. It had players like Eric Pike, Charles Johnson, Randall Harris, Anthony Davis and Tom Ryan. But again, as you continue to win, you’ll continue getting more quality players. This class is a reflection of that. I think it will probably turn out to be their best yet.
Who in this year’s signing class stands out to you?
Two players in particular stand out. Antonio Harris is a three-star offensive lineman who could probably play right away, although they have a senior-oriented offensive line and don’t necessarily need him. He was a big-time pickup for the program along with Andre Dessenberg. Dessenberg is one of the most highly regarded receivers that they have ever had in terms of ratings. He had five touchdowns in one game and broke Virginia Beach records that Plaxico Burress and Percy Harvin originally set.
I would also add Colby Grant into this mix. He’s a big, speedster kid out of Pennsylvania. They need to balance what they have going with Terrance West and Sterlin Phifer at backup, and he’s a running back slot receiver that can get upfield and serve as a long ball threat. If not this year, then he’ll certainly be a weapon for them in the following years.
There always seems to be a few guys in every program’s signing class that have the ability to step in and vie for a starting spot right away. Is Towson a program that lends itself to that?
Normally most coaches will say they would prefer not to play incoming guys right away, but if they’re that good then it’s hard not to play them as true freshmen. I think Harris could play right away, but they’re already so stacked at offensive line. They definitely have a need at wide receiver, and it depends on what they bring in transfer wise, but Dessenberg could probably play right away. Brian Charles is a safety from here in state who could help replace the big loss of Jordan Dangerfield. He’s a possibility that we’ll have to watch. And I’d say the same with Colby Grant and DeAngelo Stephenson, who are both incredibly fast players who may not play at their positions right away but could possibly get some time as return men.
Now that Towson has won at least a share of the conference title in each of the past two years, how have expectations for the program changed?
This year their motto is “Leave no doubt.” They were just devastated this past year after not making the playoffs. They went into New Hampshire and beat the Wildcats and really came away from that game thinking that the win put them over the top.
So now it’s all about winning the conference title and trying to win a national championship. Their expectation is to win a CAA Championship outright this year to get into the playoffs rather than sharing the conference title.
I know it’s early, but given your insight into the program, what do you think we can anticipate from the Tigers in 2013?
They’re very experienced on the offensive line and return one of the best running backs in the nation in Terrance West. A very solid backup in Sterlin Phifer will join him as the backup.
They’re strong defensively, too. Defensive end may be a bit of a question and they may rotate there, but their linebackers are all returning. They have two all-conference cornerbacks as well.
A lot may depend on who comes out of the quarterback competition this spring. Joe Brennan is a transfer from Wisconsin who has a strong shot. They don’t necessarily need a superstar or even a Grant Enders, but they need a quarterback who can manage the game and not turn the ball over. They like Brennan and Connor Frazier as well. We’ll also see how Dahlgren plays in the spring.
The team has most of the tools, but it just depends on the quarterback situation. There’s no question that this team has the talent. Overall, the team’s talent is as good as any other teams in CAA Football, but they have to have a quarterback. We’ll have to watch that as we head into the spring.
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