Tulane did not sign many big names in coach Curtis Johnson’s fourth recruiting class, but “big” was the operative term when he talked about his haul of 17 players.
While going 3-9 during its first season in the American Athletic Conference, the Green Wave came up small in more ways than one. Johnson recognized the need to put bigger bodies on the field.
“We looked at the teams that we gotta beat like Memphis, Houston and Cincinnati, and those guys were much bigger than what we were accustomed to playing in Conference USA,” he said. “We had to really change our philosophy. We had to get much bigger players, and we addressed it.”
They started with the defensive and offensive lines, picking up 6-foot-1, 302-pound defensive tackle John Washington from West Monroe, 6-foot, 298-pound defensive tackle Brian Webb from Miller-McCoy in New Orleans East, 6-foot-3, 344-pound offensive guard Leeward Brown from Miramar High School in Florida and 6-foot-4, 332-pound offensive tackle Keeyon Smart from McKinley High in Baton Rouge.
Washington had 55 tackles, 24 stops for loss and six sacks as a senior, while Webb made 67 tackles with 34 stops for loss, 10 sacks and six forced fumbles. Big numbers, big guys.
Tulane strayed out of its normal recruiting area for Washington, a three-star prospect according to Scout.com and 247Sports.
“We had to get bigger and bigger and bigger, so we went out and got John Washington,” Johnson said. “He’s a physical guy.”
Brown is a one-time Miami commitment rated three stars by all of the recruiting sites. After his Hurricanes scholarship fell through, he toured Tulane on the final recruiting weekend and committed at the end of his visit.
“He’s going to help us somewhere in the offensive line,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if it will be game one or if it will be game six. It’s going to be hard for me to not play this kid early and often.”
The emphasis on size did not stop at the line of scrimmage. Desperately needing wide receivers with only four scholarship players returning, Tulane missed on numerous guys at a loaded Louisiana position but signed two big ones — 6-foot-2, 195-pound Darius Williams of McDonogh 35 and 6-foot-2, 198-pound Andrew Hicks of Belle Chasse.
Williams caught 57 passes for 813 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. Hicks played primarily at quarterback, rushing for 1,372 yards and 19 scores.
“If you look at rookies in the NFL and if you look at our rookies when I was at Miami, we had young kids playing,” Johnson said. “They’ll be fine. They’re ready to play. The one thing we needed was some taller, more physical guys. We’ve addressed those needs.”
The story was similar at defensive back. Tulane signed a whopping seven players and made sure to include 6-foot-1 Dedrick Shy and 6-foot-0 Jeremie Francis, bookend starting cornerbacks at Warren Easton.
“They are tall, they are long-limbed, they are fast and they can run,” Johnson said. “They were shutdown corners. These are guys looking to come in and play right away.”
Even the kicker is big. None of the signees is taller than Zach Block, a 6-foot-4 prospect from Clermont (Fla.) East Ridge who will get a chance to unseat senior punter Peter PIcerelli.
“He can kick the ball to the sky,” Johnson said. “You’ll be amazed how far this guy can punt.”
The class also has some big holes. Tulane did not sign a quarterback, a defensive end or a linebacker and lost the only tight end it recruited heavily, Jesuit’s Foster Moreau, to LSU on Wednesday.
Johnson saw no need for a quarterback with redshirt sophomore Tanner Lee, junior Devin Powell and redshirt freshman Glen Cuillette returning. The issue at end was one of quality.
“We looked at the defensive ends we had targeted and said we’d rather take tackles and defensive backs,” Johnson said. “We’ll go a little bit heavier at the defensive end position next year, but we didn’t feel the defensive ends we had targeted would help us win in this conference.”
Despite the emphasis on size, Johnson was intrigued by the two smallest guys in the class — Acadiana all-purpose player Malik Eugene (5-foot-8, 162 pounds) and Warren Easton running back Devin Glenn (5-foot-6, 144 pounds).
Eugene, who rushed for 1,054 yards and made 50 tackles as a senior, is slated to start out at safety.
“I don’t want (co-defensive coordinators Jason Rollins and Lionel Washington) to kill me, but it’s definitely an open-ended conversation,” Johnson said. “He’s such a great athlete. He can run and he’s a big hitter. I’d like to see him catch the ball out of the backfield, but those guys might win out. They’re meaner than I am.”
The pint-sized Glenn rushed for more than 1,000 yards with 14 touchdowns.
“He’s our little (Darren) Sproles,” Johnson said. “We finally got one.”
The recruiting rankings gave Tulane little credit for its efforts. After placing well inside the top 100 in the final Rivals.com assessments during Johnson’s first three years, the Wave plummeted to a tie for 103rd on Wednesday, with only two three-star players and a chance at a third in unsigned John Curtis safety Hunter Dale.
Johnson, though, talked big.
“I woke up early last night,” he said. “My problem was I can’t believe we’re getting this kid and I can’t believe we’re getting this one. It was so many ‘I can’t believes’ that I really couldn’t sleep. I scared myself. But all of these kids ended up signing, and it is a great day for us.”