Plenty of factors contributed to Tulane's 14 losing records in its past 15 years of football, but the primary reason was pretty simple. By any evaluation standard, the Green Wave's players have not been as talented as most of its opponents.
Third-year coach Willie Fritz and his staff continued to rectify that issue Wednesday, adding three more three-star prospects to a stellar signing class already loaded with more of them than in any year since Rivals.com started keeping count in 2002.
The final tally is 13 — half of the class of 26, four more than the previous high mark in 2009 and four more than the combined total from the past three years. If those numbers are not impressive enough, 247Sports.com rated 20 of the players three stars or better.
The haul helped Tulane, coming off a 5-7 season, to the fifth-best class ranking among Group of Five conference schools (Rivals.com) and the fourth best in the 12-team American Athletic Conference, ahead of everyone but Cincinnati, South Florida and Houston.
"You never know how these classes end up until you have the guys on campus for a year or two, but we've gotten better every year," Fritz said. "Last year we had a very good year, and this year was much improved. I tell the players who are playing for us right now that they need to do a great job of developing every day because part of our job as coaches is to recruit over the top of them and get better talent in here."
With only three spots remaining after 23 players signed in December, Tulane concentrated on defense Wednesday. Keitha Jones, a linebacker from Port Arthur (Texas) Memorial High, held firm to his commitment from last week.
A pair of highly sought players from Montgomery (Alabama) Lanier High finished out the class: 6-foot-1, 268-pound defensive tackle Alfred Thomas and 6-2, 210 linebacker La'Dedric Jackson. Lanier is the alma mater of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, whose center at the school, James Wilson, is the namesake of the building where Tulane has its athletic offices.
Jackson committed to Missouri in July, de-committed in September and had interest from Kentucky, Tennessee and Cincinnati. He and Jones (6-2, 190), a starting quarterback as a senior who decommitted from SMU, filled the only remaining hole in the class after Tulane failed to sign a linebacker in December.
"Those two guys were just really too good to pass up," Fritz said. "La'Dedric Jackson had all sorts of SEC offers and unfortunately got injured. He'll jump in here and be ready to go in August."
Thomas had offers at one point from Georgia, Tennessee, Louisville, Ole Miss and Mississippi State among others. He became the fourth well-regarded defensive tackle in Tulane's class, joining January enrollers Jeffery Johnson and Davon Wright and De La Salle star Jamiran James.
"When you watch the games, you see all the skill guys, but you win up front," Fritz said. "We needed to get bigger, better athletes up there with mass and strength that are ready made to compete for starting positions."
Johnson and Wright already have impressed the coaches with their strength in the weight room at a position where Tulane needed immediate help. No returning interior lineman made more than 12 tackles this past season.
"Davon Wright has got the mass, the size and the strength to play early for us," Fritz said. "Jeffery is another guy with the mass and the strength. Those are two of our stronger guys (on campus)."
Tulane checked just about all the boxes with its class. Counting preferred walk-on kicker Sterling Stockwell from Orlando (Florida) Dr. Phillips High, the Wave won over at least one player at every position, getting five defensive backs, five offensive linemen (including Vanderbilt graduate transfer Bailey Granier), four defensive tackles, three running backs, two defensive ends, two linebackers, two wide receivers, a quarterback, a tight end and a punter.
The group also is geographically balanced, with three players from New Orleans, eight from Louisiana, six from Texas, three from Mississippi, three from Florida, two from Alabama and one each from Georgia, North Carolina and California.
Although the Wave has a shortage at quarterback after all three backups to senior Jonathan Banks decided to transfer, Fritz refused to reach for another one to complement Christian Daniels, a three-star January enrollee from Elon (North Carolina) Western Alamance, once former Zachary star committed to Missouri.
Daniels will compete in the spring with rising sophomore Dane Ledford, a 2017 quarterback recruit who moved to wide receiver early last year, for the second-team spot. Former quarterback recruit turned running back Darius Bradwell can play emergency quarterback along with Keitha Jones and Amare Jones, a running back signee from Frisco (Texas) Heritage who played primarily at quarterback as a senior.
"The great thing about that is, Daniels is here for spring football, and there are some other things we can do," Fritz said. "The thing I didn't want to do was grab somebody that I didn't think was a bona fide Division I player. He would be around for four years and wouldn't help you win."