National Signing Day Notebook: A look at Sanford’s second recruiting class

Head coach Mike Sanford cheers at WKU fans after kicked a win in triple overtime during WKU’s game vs MTSU on Friday Nov. 17 in Houchens-Smith Stadium. WKU won 41-38.

Coming off a 6-7 season in his first year as a head coach, Mike Sanford signed his second Hilltopper recruiting class on Wednesday, inking 23 players to the 2018 class. The class consisted of players from nine different states, and Sanford added 10 new signees on Wednesday after picking up 13 players in the newly implemented early signing period on Dec. 20 of last year. The class is WKU’s highest ranked class in school history, according to 247Sports.  

“The ink’s drying on what I believe to be a historical signing class and a historical day for Western Kentucky football,” Sanford said. “After this past season we had to get back to the drawing board and enhance this roster to make it better and better each and every year.”

Sanford left two scholarship spots open for the possibility of adding transfers to the program for the upcoming season. 

Impact of early signing period

On National Signing Day in 2017, Sanford had only been on the Hill for seven weeks and dealt with the challenges of scrambling to sign 22 players as a first-time head coach. This year, the new challenge was managing the February signing day as a secondary period to sign recruits after an early signing period was added in December of 2017.

“I really enjoyed this two signing period deal,” he said. “The first signing period is kind of your traditional, this is the fruits of your labor over the course of the last seven, eight, nine months, and then I said let’s hit the rest button. Let’s build our board from scratch.”

Sanford said he and his staff focused more on filling in the remaining scholarships with team needs after getting the bulk of his class in December.  

“I think the biggest challenge was just knowing the balance of how far along we wanted to get with our class and what percentage we wanted to occupy in that December period,” Sanford said. “There are some players that we signed on Dec. 20 that would have gotten Power 5 offers [in this period]. They felt a commitment to sign with us regardless of what would be on the other side of December 20th.”

Sanford still managed to grab Power 5 talent in February.

Three-star running back Garland LaFrance from Louisiana signed with the Hilltoppers on Wednesday. LaFrance was once committed to Texas Tech and held an offer from TCU at one point.

Three-star wide receiver Anthony Spurlock and three-star defensive back Avonta “BJ” Crimm also signed with WKU on Wednesday. Spurlock decommitted from Oregon State in December, and Crimm was offered by Notre Dame in October before he wound up signing with the Hilltoppers.  

State breakdown

Nine states were represented in the Hilltoppers’ 2018 class. Sanford signed players from Georgia (9), Florida (5), Louisiana (2), Alabama (2), Tennessee (1), South Carolina (1), Texas (1) and Kentucky (1).

“We’re not going to out any limit on where we get our players from,” Sanford said. “Nine states were represented. From two of the best [high school] football-playing states in the country without question in Georgia and Florida. We’re back into Florida. That’s very clear. We’re going to be back into Florida, getting great players. Two years in a row we’ve added players from the great state of Georgia.”

The lone Kentucky player in the class is defensive back Shannon Bishop from Louisville (Pleasure Ridge Park High School), who is former WKU defensive back Joe Brown’s cousin.

Bishop ran consecutive 40-yard dashes at 4.31and 4.32 seconds on WKU’s campus at a previous camp of over 350 players. “It was tangibly fast,” Sanford said. The next fastest time was recorded at 4.68.

“From our home state, I feel like we’re ongoing with putting our class together with the acquisition of grayshirts that we can’t comment on and we had an unbelievable weekend of preferred walk-ons,” Sanford said.

Sanford said it was “good to get back into Texas” with the signing of 6-6 offensive tackle Mason Brooks, and was excited about finding some unexpected talent in Louisiana in LaFrance and Spurlock.

LaFrance ran the fastest time in the country at the Nike Sparks Series Combine with a 3.83 second short shuttle time.

“I am all for recruiting in New Orleans going forward,” Sanford said. “It was a really good area. There are certain areas of the country that a lot of people are recruiting and there are areas that are a little under-recruited. I’m excited about New Orleans.” 

Revamping the O-Line with two players and a coach

The Hilltopper football program announced the hiring of offensive line coach T.J. Woods last week as former offensive line coach Geoff Dartt recovers from brain cancer.

Along with a new coach at the position, the Hilltoppers addressed a critical need on the offensive line in this signing period: length.

Brooks, a 6-6, 270 lb. tackle is joined in the class by 6-6, 290 lb. Gunner Britton from Conway, South Carolina.

“We needed to add length at the offensive tackle position,” Woods said. “We got two offensive tackles that are 6-6 type bodies. Big wingspan guys.”

WKU ranked dead last in rushing last season in the FBS at 60 rushing yards per game.

Not just another QB; Sanford nabs first 4-star in school history

Sanford got another quarterback in 2018, as Kevaris Thomas became the first four-star prospect to sign with WKU straight out of high school. The 6-3, 246 lb. Thomas is considered a dual threat passer, ranked 22nd at the position and chose the Hilltoppers over Colorado State as well as C-USA foes Florida International and Florida Atlantic.

“You want the quarterback to be the leader of your football team and you want him to be the leader of your class,” Sanford said of Thomas. “We were very fortunate to sign him in December. To be perfectly honest, the way the watched the quarterback recruiting go into January and February, Kevaris would be a Power 5 signing no doubt in my mind. That’s what we got in Kevaris Thomas in building a relationship with him.”

Sanford spoke highly of Thomas’ arm talent, calling it his “No. 1 trait.”

Digital Managing Editor Evan Heichelbech can be reached at 502-415-1817 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @evanheich.


Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 502-648-7190 [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.