Unhappy with the new December early signing period, Tulane football coach Willie Fritz adjusted like all successful leaders.
He did not get bogged down in any negativity as the Green Wave hauled in its highest-rated class since Hurricane Katrina, getting the signatures of 22 players before mid-morning Wednesday.
The ranking would rise even more if Tulane wins over former LSU and current East Mississippi Community College quarterback Lindsey Scott, the 2015 Louisiana Mr. Football and Zachary High product who remained unsigned later in the day, but Fritz was plenty happy with the guys already in the fold.
“We think we signed a fantastic class,” he said. “We’ve very, very, very excited about it.”
The group ranked fourth in the 12-team American Athletic Conference and 63rd nationally according to Rivals.com, 14 spots higher than any class since 2004 (60th). And that rating came without much of a boost from lightly recruited but heavily regarded Warren Easton cornerback Damien Tate, a two-star rated prospect who dominated games all year.
“Talking to all the high school coaches locally, that was the one guy they kept talking about,” Fritz said. “I had a few coaches tell me they thought he was best player in the city. We’re excited about having him.”
The class checked off almost all of the boxes Fritz wanted filled, including a heavier Louisiana influence (eight) while the Wave met every big position concern.
Joining Tate from the state were 3-star Scotlandville defensive back Dorian Camel, 3-star St. Augustine defensive end Juan Monjarres, 3-star Donaldsonville defensive tackle Davon Wright, Destrehan defensive back Macon Clark, De La Salle defensive tackle Jamiran James, Ascension Episcopal (Lafayette) offensive lineman Michael Remondet and Alexandria wide receiver Jorien Vallien.
Tulane signed only two players from Louisiana last February.
“We hope there are some more Louisiana kids we are able to sign in the next couple of days,” Fritz said. “This is one of the top states in the nation for high school football. It takes a little time to build relationships. It’s always good to get kids locally, but you want to get the right ones. We weren’t just going to just go after local kids that can’t help us win big time in the American Athletic Conference.”
Wright (6-foot-1, 287 pounds), who along with Elon (North Carolina) Western Alamance quarterback Christian Daniels and Hampton (Georgia) Dutchtown defensive back Chris Joyce will enroll in January, is one of three interior defensive lineman the Wave coaches hope will be able to play right away.
With the graduation of Sean Wilson a year after current Los Angeles Rams tackle Tanzel Smart departed, Tulane is bereft of proven returning performers there.
Jeffery Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 330-pound prospect from Brookhaven in Mississippi, hopes to enroll for the spring semester, too, but has not been cleared. James, who led De La Salle to its first state championship game appearance since 1961, is the third defensive tackle.
“We signed some good ones,” Fritz said. “Jeffery Johnson had a whole bunch of Power Six offers. He’s ready made. Jamiran James is another guy with the size and mass to play as a true freshman, and so could Davon Wright. The neat thing is, all of those guys are close enough where they can come watch us practice spring ball.”
Fritz and his staff won several recruiting battles even though Tulane is coming off back-to-back losing seasons and has been to only one bowl game in the past 15 years. The difference was how close the Wave came this season, finishing 5-7 with a controversial last-second loss to SMU the difference between staying home or playing again.
“Tulane is a pretty easy sell with our academic prowess,” Fritz said. “Our conference is an easy sell. A lot of these kids watched us play every week, either here in person or on TV.”
The staff even branched out of its normal recruiting area to sign players at the skill positions. Daniels, from North Carolina, would have been recruited even more heavily elsewhere if he had agreed to move to defensive back.
“He wants to be a quarterback, and he fits our system,” Fritz said. “He’s big. He’s a legit 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. He is fast. We try to get measurable on every player we recruit, and he’s got tremendous speed.”
Tulane’s latest commitment, Brooksville (Florida) Hernando running back Ygenio Booker, is intriguing, too. He had limited touches as a senior, but he averaged 13.2 yards on 32 carries and 37.9 yards on 11 catches, running a laser-timed 4.42 in the 40-yard dash.
Fritz said Booker’s high school coach compared him to Matt Breida, a Georgia Southern running back under Fritz who is playing for San Francisco 49ers this year.
Tulane’s lone whiff came at linebacker. Preston Ellison of Odessa (Texas) Permian, who committed Tuesday, backed out and signed with SMU, leaving the Wave without any linebacker in the class.
That position will become a huge priority next year, but the Wave hit home runs almost everywhere else. Fritz added there was room for three more signees, either in the next two days or the February 7 signing date.
“I’m excited about being here at Tulane for a long time,” said Fritz, who confirmed he had discussed a contract extension with athletic director Troy Dannen. “We came close this year. We have a lot of goals and objectives we want to accomplish.”