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Tulane coach Willie Fritz gives instructions against the Houston Cougars on Saturday, November 18, 2017 at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans.

ADVOCATE PHOTO BY A.J. SISCO

Tulane coach Willie Fritz really liked his signing class last February, feeling his staff had unearthed several under-the radar newcomers who were better than their recruiting rankings.

The payoff came when three true freshmen and three junior college transfers started this fall, belying the group’s sub-100 national rating.

There are not many players under the radar in the 2018 commitment list. With an early signing day the third Wednesday in December added to the traditional February slot, the Green Wave is on the verge of its highest rated class since Hurricane Katrina.

“We need to do a good job of being able to get these guys where they’re able to play quick,” said coach Willie Fritz, who is entering his third year with the Wave. “We’ve done that the last two years. We are excited about signing a great class.”

The list includes 6-foot-3, 330-pound Brookhaven (Mississippi) defensive tackle Jeffery Johnson, who was pursued by Alabama and Florida State at one point and is a tick short of four stars according to Rivals.com and 247Sports.com. The top power five schools shied away from him after he gained 20 pounds while under doctor’s orders not to exercise during a health scare in the summer. When the concern proved unfounded, he had a productive senior year with 67 tackles and seven sacks.

Johnson, who ultimately chose Tulane ahead of Louisville and Kentucky, said he would sign Wednesday morning and enroll for the spring semester, giving him a head start at a position of dire need.

“I’m a good hole-jammer,” he said. “I give full-out effort and everything I have.”

All the pieces appear to have fallen into place for the Wave as Fritz enters his third year. He said last Tuesday he needed defensive backs in the class, and Tulane secured three commitments from DBs in the next six days, getting a pair of three-star recruits in Larry Brooks of Kennedale (Texas) and Chris Joyce of Hampton (Georgia) Dutchtown as well as Warren Easton’s Damien Tate, one of the top playmakers in the New Orleans metro area.

They joined Scotlandville DB Dorian Campbell, another three-star recruit who initially attracted interest from Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Tulane’s commitment class includes 10 three-star recruits according to Rivals.com and 15 according to 247Sports.com.

Two early commitments — three-star St. Augustine defensive end Juan Monjarres and three-star Donaldsonville defensive tackle Davon Wright — have remained firm since committing to Tulane in the spring.

The Wave’s late recruiting efforts paid dividends as well. Of the 10 players who took official visits on the weekend of Dec. 8, five have committed — Camel, Johnson, Brooks, punter Ryan Wright of San Ramon, California, and outside linebacker Preston Ellison of traditional power Permian High in Odessa, Texas.

Ellison, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound prospect who is more in the mold of last year’s recruits, tweeted his commitment on Tuesday afternoon. Neither Rivals.com nor 247Sports.com rate him any stars, and his only other listed offers are from Army, New Mexico, New Mexico State and Texas State.

The projected class is balanced, with three defensive tackles, two defensive ends, two linebackers, four defensive backs, a quarterback, two wide receivers, two running backs, a tight end, four offensive linemen and a punter. The only position not represented is kicker.

The geographical distribution is balanced among Fritz’ target territories, too, with eight players from Louisiana, six from Texas, three from Mississippi, two from Florida and one each from Georgia, North Carolina and California.

Tulane lost two-star running back Simi Bakare, a Texas player who committed in October, to Kansas on Tuesday, but the Wave already had decent depth there.

Fritz, who was not a fan of the early signing date when it was approved, adjusted quickly. 

“Really it was more in-season recruiting for us than what you normally have,” he said. “Then we hit the ground running after the last game. I’ve been all over the place and so have my coaches.”

Follow Guerry Smith on Twitter, @guersmith