Not much happened for Tulane on the traditional national signing day, and coach Willie Fritz was OK with that.
The Green Wave added one player on Wednesday — safety Jacquez Norman Can Ridge High in Antioch, Tennessee — to its haul of 19 players from the December signing period.
Tulane had little interest in reaching for marginal prospects to fill out the class.
“We want guys who can get into Tulane and be bona fide Division I players,” Fritz said. “If they’re not, we’ll save these scholarships. I don’t want to say it’s anticlimactic, but we only signed one player today. Overall, we feel really good about things. There are some areas we needed to help, and we got that.”
Norman is not marginal. Playing both ways for a Class 6A program, he rushed for 1,129 yards on 90 carries and had 26 tackles with an interception.
“There were a lot of games he didn’t come off the field,” Fritz said. “I like those guys. When I coached in high school, I wanted to make sure that our best athletes had the ball in their hands. Sometimes it scares me when we recruit a defensive back or linebacker and they don’t play anything on offense. We want to recruit guys that show that explosiveness on offense but also show the ability to tackle and hit people and cover people.”
The Wave’s mediocre recruiting ranking in the American Athletic Conference — it was listed eighth out of 12 teams by both Rivals.com and 247Sports.com by Wednesday evening — does not reflect the value of graduate transfers Jalen McCleskey of Oklahoma State, Christian Montano of Brown and Ben Knutson, who said Monday he would enroll when he graduated from Virginia in May.
McCleskey, the son of Tulane defensive backs coach J.J. McCleskey, was a three-star recruit and top-100 wide receiver coming out of high school. He caught 167 passes in three-plus years for Oklahoma State before deciding to transfer after playing four games last fall, taking advantage of a new NCAA rule.
“The guy’s got great experience at a high level of football and is going to fit in here big time,” Fritz said. “He has great speed, he runs super routes and he’s a gym rat. I had to talk to him the other day about being careful not over-training. When I look out of my balcony, he’s out there running around doing stuff on Saturdays and Sundays. He’s going to be a great addition.”
Senior Darnell Mooney (48 receptions, 993 yards) is the only returning receiver with more than seven catches, so the Wave needed an impact player there. McCleskey's arrival also could help the mental health of his dad, whom Fritz said struggled not being able to watch his son play at the beginning of the year for the first time in his life.
“Just being closer to home and close to the family was really big,” Jalen McCleskey said. “We are going to butt heads at practice because my dad’s with the secondary, but it’s going to be really fun. I just felt like this was going to be a really good fit.”
Montano, a second-team All-Ivy League selection in 2017 who sat out almost all of his senior season with a foot injury, is penciled in as a starter somewhere on the offensive line. The Ivy League does not allow players to compete as graduate students, forcing him to leave Brown to continue his career.
“He had a lot of people that offered him there at the end,” Fritz said. “He’s started at center, guard and tackle. We’re excited about him.”
Knutson, who has two years of eligibility remaining, was the No. 17 overall prospect in Indiana in 2016. according to Rivals.com. Tulane’s coaches cannot talk about him until he enrolls, but insiders predict he will compete for a starting job at guard or tackle this fall.
While that trio is capable of making an immediate impact on offense, the signing class is titled toward defense, with four safeties, two cornerbacks, three linebackers and three defensive linemen. Rounding out the group are three offensive linemen, two tight ends, two wide receivers and a running back.
Six signees are rated 3 stars by Rivals.com — safety Tyler Judson of Zachary High, linebackers Keshon Williams and Darius Hodges, wide receiver Jha’Quan Jackson of Hahnville High, running back Tyjae Spears of Ponchatoula High and offensive lineman Sincere Haynesworth.
The class was culled from 10 states, with four from Louisiana, three from Texas and Tennessee, two from Mississippi, Georgia and Florida and one each from South Carolina, Alabama, Illinois and California.
Fritz said he liked the diversity but hopes to sign more home-grown players in the future.
“This is a really heavily recruited state,” he said. “We feel like the guys we have from Louisiana are really good. We’d like that number to get up to eight, nine or 10, but we don’t want to get seconds or thirds in Louisiana. We want to get those guys that will help take us to the next level.”
Fritz also wanted a quarterback, but Tulane’s top target, Peyton Matocha, chose Miami.
“We had a couple of guys we were really interested in, but we didn’t get them,” Fritz said. “I’m one of the few coaches who will admit that we get beat from time to time in recruiting. We didn’t feel like there were other guys out there right now that fit what we’re looking for.
"It’s not a position we have to get a guy at right now. If you get a guy and he’s going to have a tough time playing for you, he’s not going to be happy and you’re not going to be happy.”