Football lands 22 recruits on National Signing Day

Jim Fleming and the University of Rhode Island football team welcomed 22 new recruits on Feb. 7 as part of National Signing Day, and the direction of the program has never looked brighter in the eyes of the coaching staff.

The recruiting class of 2018 consists of 14 freshmen, seven junior college transfers coming in with two years of eligibility and one player coming in as a graduate senior with one season remaining. The class was no stranger to accolades, as there were several players that earned all-state, all-conference and all-area honors in addition to being team captains and multi-sport athletes.

The offensive recruits were anchored by five offensive linemen. Nick Correia, who the coaching staff called one “the biggest recruits the program has ever seen,” comes in at 350 pounds while being a first-team Max Prep Stars and Mayflower Athletic Conference all-league pick at Nantucket High School. Evan Lovell comes into the program with a boatload of accolades, including a first-team all-area, all-prep and all-MAPL selection in 2016 and 2017 at the Peddie School in Thomaston, Connecticut.

Kadin Booker, the tallest recruit in the class at six-foot-seven-inches tall, comes from Ball State University where he was a two-year starter and started 14 of the 19 games he played. The Rams surrendered 32 sacks throughout last season, and the addition of a strong class of offensive linemen should keep quarterbacks JaJuan Lawson and Tyler Harris off the ground.

The Rams also added several new skill players and a new wide receiver coach in Donovan Varner, who worked previously as a graduate assistant for two years at East Carolina University. Varner will get to work immediately with new receivers Ahmere Dorsey, a transfer from Nassau Community College who contributed primarily on special teams with 571 return yards and one touchdown, and John Erby, a high school standout from Chester, South Carolina, who played quarterback his senior season and gained a combined 2,839 yards and 37 total touchdowns.

The Rams also inked Hunter Gorges, a tight end from undefeated St. John’s Shrewsbury in Massachusetts whose grandfather Gerald Winse was part of the 1966 Notre Dame football national championship squad, and Naim Jones, a running back transfer from Nassau Community College who was third in the country with 8.5 yards per carry last season.

The front seven was the area of concern on defense as the program added four defensive linemen and four linebackers. Linebacker Andre Johnson and Defensive Linemen Ryan McDonough will be reunited in keaney blue this upcoming fall, as Johnson was Vero Beach High School’s leading tackler with 125 during his senior season and McDonough contributed 67 tackles and 9.5 sacks while earning all-county honors and leading Vero Beach to the Florida 8A semifinals. Linebacker Bryan Castillo and Defensive Tackle Keith Wells will also be reunited as the two transferred from Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pennsylvania after leading the team to a berth in the 2017 Sun Bowl. Castillo led Lackawanna with nine sacks and was first-team all-conference, while Wells totaled 34 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. With the Rams graduating notable front seven contributors Jose Duncan, Mike Ezirike and Ezra Holmes this year, the front seven is getting a much needed reinforcement.

Overall Fleming was very pleased with the recruiting class and praised the talent and versatility that the program will immediately see.

“They’re very good football players,” Fleming said. “It’s a very deep class that’s going to have some depth and provide an immediate impact.”

Fleming also acknowledged the success that the men’s basketball team has had and how he hopes he can soon compare the success of the University’s athletics to that of CAA rival, Villanova. The Wildcats have recently won national championships in men’s basketball in 2015 and football in 2009, and Fleming believes with the direction that the program is heading in that there is “no reason we can’t do the same thing.”

Since Fleming left the University of Central Florida in 2013 and was handed the keys to the program, the team has won seven total games in four years, with their highest total of three wins coming this year. But do not let the win column deter you away from the program. Each year the team has seen improvement and is heading in the right direction as Fleming’s recruits settle into their roles. James Madison University’s head coach Mike Houston, who in his second year for the Dukes has already hoisted the FCS National Championship trophy, praised Rhode Island and called them a team on the rise in the CAA after they came to Meade Stadium on Nov.4, 2017. Fleming and the coaching staff are confident in their players and new recruits, and believe that their window for competing consistently in the top of the CAA has just arrived.

“The message from the staff was that the time is now,” Fleming said. “We feel as though we have put a four-year foundation down that is rock solid. [Each year] we have got progressively closer to our goal which is to win a CAA conference championship.