Early signing class anchored by offense, local stars

WKU’s new head coach Tyson Helton speaks during coach his press conference as the new head coach of the Hilltoppers at the Harbaugh Club in Houchens-Smith Stadium Nov. 27 in Bowling Green.

Matt Stahl

WKU football has announced the signings of 17 recruits Wednesday, the start of the early signing period. The new signees are the first additions to new head coach Tyson Helton’s first recruiting class on the Hill.

“Really excited about these guys that have signed today,” Helton said. “Really fit a lot of the needs that we were looking for moving in to the season.”

The first signing announced by WKU was punter John Haggerty, who hails from Melbourne, Australia.

“He’s a big strong kid,” special teams assistant coach Garrett Schwettman said in a video released by WKU athletics. “Really good kid overall. Really fine tuned in his mechanics, great leg. I think he’s going to come in and make a big impact for us right away.”

The biggest splash made by the Hilltoppers was the signing of wide receiver Manny Allen, from Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley, California. Allen recently flipped his commitment to WKU from Southern California, where he would have played for Helton’s brother, Clay Helton.

“Manny’s kind of that elusive guy thats’s savvy and can get open and find windows and can do something with it when he catches” Helton said. “Very excited about all those guys in that receiving core.”

Former Louisville commit, offensive lineman Jack Randolph, a local prospect who played at Franklin-Simpson High School in Franklin, also signed with the Hilltoppers. Randolph helped lead the Wildcats to victory in the Kentucky 4A state championship game earlier this month, Franklin-Simpson’s second straight title.

“He came available and for us it was at the perfect time,” Helton said. “We were looking that body type, we were looking to add another offensive lineman.”

Continuing the local connections, wide receiver Clayton Bush, from South Warren High School in Bowling Green, signed with WKU. Bush helped South Warren win the 5A title after being on the 4A championship team in 2015.

“He’s a guy that’s won a championship,” Helton said. “He knows how to win. He can play both sides of the ball. I think that’s really good for us moving forward.”

The early signing class features a focus on the offensive side of the ball, with nine of the 16 players playing offense.

Defensively, the Hilltoppers signed defensive lineman Ricky Barber from Doss Magnet Career Academy in Louisville. Barber chose WKU after also considering Purdue, Indiana, Cincinnati and Yale.

“Big time playmaker,” defensive tackles coach Kenneth Martin said in a released video. “Very explosive, has 16 sacks, 20-plus tackles for loss and can dunk a basketball. His [6-foot-9-inch] wingspan and his first step make him second to none.”

Another WKU defensive signee of note was defensive lineman Stephone Atkinson from Lake Minneola High School in Lake Minneola, Florida. Atkinson was also recruited by Charleston Southern, The Citadel and Colorado State, among others.

“Stephone’s a really good speed rusher,” defensive ends coach Jimmy Lindsey said in a released video. “We’ll start him out at the boundary end position. He’ll add another dimension to our pass rush. Very athletic kid, was actually a running back in high school, so that’s what really intrigued us.”

In the defensive backfield, the Hilltoppers pulled in a junior college product, Trae Meadows from Garden City Community College in Kansas. Meadows originally came from Greensboro, North Carolina.

“Long arms,” defensive coordinator Clayton White said in a video. “Really scrappy, quick, can make plays on the ball. Huge get for the Tops, exactly what we needed. Can’t wait to get him here.”

Helton and the Hilltoppers will go back on the road recruiting in preparation for the regular national signing day, which will take place on Feb. 6. WKU’s first game will be Aug. 31 at Houchens-Smith Stadium against Central Arkansas.

Sports Editor Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @mattstahl97.