Indianola (Mississippi) Gentry offensive lineman Phabion Woodard and Madison (Alabama) Bob James running back Miles Strickland were not on Tulane’s radar before coach Willie Fritz was hired, and neither knew much of anything about Tulane.
Yet, contacted in January for the first time, both committed to the Green Wave during their official visits this weekend, joining Zachary wide receiver Doug Coleman and Kennesaw (Ga.) linebacker Larry Bryant as Fritz and his staff began to fill out their class with the Feb. 3 national signing day approaching.
Woodard and Strickland fit Tulane’s traditional profile of outstanding students and under-the-radar recruits, but they see a bright future with Fritz in charge of the Green Wave program.
“I know when they told me they are trying to turn it around, they are going to do everything they can to be a successful program,” Woodard said. “They are going to rise, and I want to be a part of the foundation for what’s going to happen.”
Woodard, unrated by Rivals.com, is a 6-foot-4, 308-pound prospect who excelled in a run-based high school offense that was similar to what Fritz has used at Sam Houston State and Georgia Southern. He said he had offers from Louisiana-Lafayette, a few SWAC schools and some junior colleges before Tulane’s coaches convinced him to visit.
It was an easy sell since he wants to pursue a career in sports medicine, and Tulane has a prestigious medical school.
“I fell in love as soon as I stepped on campus,” he said. “I liked the close-knit, family part of it. I liked the fact that they actually support each other as far as athletics and you have a lot of people there to support you academic-wise, too.
“They were telling me they wanted me, they saw that I had a lot of potential and I had NFL talent.”
Strickland, a two-star recruit according to Rivals.com, scared off some teams because of his diminutive stature — he says he is 5-8 ½ and 175 pounds. Even Tulane did not offer him a scholarship until Saturday when he was on his visit, and he accepted immediately.
“I really didn’t know that much about Tulane, and my parents were the most concerned about it because it was New Orleans and it has the image of the big, bad city,” he said. “But I just flat-out fell in love with it. We just loved it all. Coach Fritz is notorious for turning those programs around, and I just want to be a part of that.”
Strickland, a track athlete with reported 4.5 speed in the 40, had some contact with Fritz and his staff when they were at Georgia Southern, but he was not sure he wanted to take an official visit without a guaranteed scholarship. He is glad they convinced him.
Boasting a nearly flawless grade point average, he plans to major in business, but his first order of business will be proving he is much more physical than he appears.
After running for more than 1,200 yards as a junior and surpassing 1,000 yards as a senior despite getting only 161 carries, he insists plenty of those gains came in between the tackles.
“Most people see my size and say, ‘He doesn’t seem like a running back,’ ” he said. “I just say, ‘Hey, look at my film because I’ve got some power behind me.’ The first play is me running over a guy. I have more than just speed.”
Coleman, who could not be reached for comment, is a three-star recruit and was a primary target for Zachary quarterback Lindsey Scott, whom Tulane is pursuing along with LSU.