Tyson Helton inks 15 in early signing class, believes newcomers will ‘be a good fit’ for WKU

WKU head coach Tyson Helton leads his squad on to the field to play in-state adversary, the Louisville Cardinals on September 14, 2019 at Nissan Stadium. Louisville won 38-21.

Drake Kizer

The WKU football program announced 15 new Hilltoppers signed to National Letters of Intent on Wednesday, which was the start of the early signing period for the Class of 2020.

The new crop of signees were the first official additions to head coach Tyson Helton’s second recruiting class on the Hill, and Helton said WKU “hit home on all the areas we needed to hit.”

“Really good day for us,” Helton said. “Really excited about this year’s signing class. I really felt like we met our needs in the early signing period.”

Helton took the reins from former WKU head coach Mike Sanford late in the 2018 recruiting cycle, and after having to quickly scramble for the 17 signatures he received in his first signing class last December, Helton said he was able to be more careful with this signing class.

Since the first-year head coach had as much time as he needed with his second signing class, Helton said he had time to create “relationships” with recruits and make sure WKU was able to “get those spots filled with guys that we think in the future could really help us.”

“Last year we kind of had to guess a little bit, would a guy really fit us?” Helton said. “I thought it was extremely important — our culture right now in our program is excellent — and I wanted to make sure that whoever we brought into this program that they fit our culture.”

“We got a lot of great guys with great character,” Helton continued. “They love to work, they love football. It takes time to really find out if a guy likes that. So, we were able to establish those relationships. I really feel like we know these guys really well. Moving forward, they ought to be a good fit for us.”

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU Herald Sports” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Head coach Tyson Helton discusses the newest crop of Hilltoppers on <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/EarlySigningDay?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#EarlySigningDay</a>: <a href="https://t.co/EUwy8IvNWW">https://t.co/EUwy8IvNWW</a></p>— WKU Herald Sports (@wkuheraldsports) <a href="https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1207359715556155392?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 18, 2019</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/wkuheraldsports/status/1207359715556155392″ type=”twitter”}}

WKU’s early signing class featured eight offensive players and seven defensive players. Nine of those 15 players are expected to be early enrollees at the university for the spring semester, which Helton said “will be huge for us moving forward with our program.”

“Last year we had a very similar situation,” Helton said. “We had a lot of guys that were able to come in and compete in spring ball. We were able to identify those guys, and a lot of those guys are playing now. It just gets you a step ahead of the game. The spring for us is more about — for the new guys — to come in, learn, develop and then try to go win a job in the fall.”

Nine players will be coming to the Hill from high school, but a total of six signees will be arriving at WKU from junior colleges across the country.

Helton said the Hilltoppers will have “a ton of guys” that will leave the program as seniors after next season, which gives the JUCO transfers a chance to slot in both now and later.

“I really felt like where we’re at right now, we have a lot of guys that are going to be seniors next year and then we have some really good young players,” Helton said. “But there’s a gap there with our sophomores and juniors that I felt we needed to add more bodies there to fill those gaps so that year in and year out, we’re not taking a step back.”

Many different position groups were represented in the group, including offensive linemen (3), defensive tackles (2), wide receivers (2), cornerbacks (2), linebackers (2), tight end (1), safety (1), quarterback (1) and running back (1).

Interestingly, WKU also signed two pairs of players who will remain teammates on the Hill after previously being teammates at their former schools.

The Hilltoppers added safety Talique Allen and running back Noah Whittington from Peach County High School in Fort Valley, Georgia, and WKU also signed wide receivers Mitchell Tinsley and Craig Burt Jr. from Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas.

“Really feel like those guys can come in and compete for jobs,” Helton said about Burt Jr. and Tinsley. “We knew we had a need at the receiver position, we were going to sign several guys, so it just worked out that both of these guys — matter of fact, they’re roommates — so it’s a pretty good situation where they can come in and be able to compete. There’s a lot of familiarity there with those guys knowing each other.”

The WKU football staff nabbed its 15 signees from 10 home states — Georgia (5), Kentucky (2), Texas (1), Florida (1), Alabama (1), Ohio (1), Mississippi (1), Missouri (1), California (1) and Washington (1).

While every state could yield signees, Helton acknowledged that adding five Georgians will help the Hilltoppers keep their recruiting pipeline in the Peach Tree State open for years to come.

“Georgia is extremely important for us,” Helton said. “I’m hoping we can add some more in the next signing period. But you just look at the state of Georgia, the quality football that’s played there. The city of Atlanta, everybody goes there to recruit. We’ve had a great history there, really through all the southeast, but Georgia in particular we really try to make home if we can.”

WKU might have opened another new pipeline out west, picking up a signee in three-star quarterback Grady Robison from Eastlake High School in Sammamish, Washington.

Helton said Robison can “hopefully be the quarterback of the future” for WKU, and the 6-foot-1-inch signal caller might be if he lives up to the high praise heaped upon him by freelance journalist TJ Cotterill in a piece he wrote for The Seattle Times last month.

“He was the Lamar Jackson of 4A KingCo,” Cotterill wrote about Robison on Nov. 25. “A rocket arm (completed 148 of 259 passes for 2071 yards and 19 TDs) and a district-champion sprinter, the Montana State commit ran for 1,053 yards and 12 TDs on 162 carries.”

The early signing period is in its third season of implementation, and it has allowed recruits to sign and send their NLIs to their new schools well before National Signing Day.

The traditional signing period in February 2020 remains, and numerous open spaces were intentionally reserved by the WKU coaching staff to add on to this class later.

Helton said WKU has “about 10 more scholarships left,” which will be a “perfect” number for a Hilltopper coaching staff looking to add more signees and transfers in the coming months.

According to the 247 Sports star ranking system, WKU’s current signing class features 10 three stars, a pair of two stars and three unranked players.

247 Sports ranked the Hilltoppers’ recruiting class 98th in the nation and seventh in Conference USA at this point, while Rivals listed WKU at 87th in the country for now.

A full list of the 15 early signees in WKU’s 2020 class is available below:

  1. Talique Allen, S, 6-1, 200, Fort Valley, Georgia (Peach County HS) *

  2. John Blunt Jr., CB, 6-1, 185, Arlington, Texas (Cisco College)

  3. Craig Burt Jr., WR, 6-4, 190, Columbus, Ohio (Hutchinson CC)

  4. Travis Collier, CB, 6-1, 190, Douglasville, Georgia (Douglas County HS)

  5. Nicholas Days, LB, 6-3, 220, Miami (Independence CC) *

  6. Mark Goode, OL, 6-6, 270, Hodgenville (LaRue County HS)

  7. Wesley Horton, OL, 6-3, 250, Atlanta (North Atlanta HS)

  8. Colt Jackson, OL, 6-3, 280, Bowling Green (South Warren HS) *

  9. David Ndukwe, DT, 6-6, 250, Lithonia, Georgia (Arabia Mountain HS) *

  10. Spencer Owens, TE, 6-4, 250, Lakewood, California (Fullerton College) *

  11. Dezmion Roberson, LB, 6-2, 200, Elba, Alabama (Elba High School) *

  12. Grady Robison, QB, 6-1, 190, Sammamish, Washington (Eastlake HS)

  13. Darius Shipp, DT, 6-1, 290, Olive Branch, Mississippi (Northeast Mississippi CC) *

  14. Mitchell Tinsley, WR, 6-1, 185, Lee’s Summit, Missouri (Hutchinson CC) *

  15. Noah Whittington, RB, 5-10, 195, Fort Valley, Georgia (Peach County HS) *

* indicates signee is anticipated to enroll early and join WKU in the spring

Sports Editor Drake Kizer can be reached at [email protected] Follow Drake on Twitter at @drakekizer_.