When asked if Old Dominion had signed its best class of football recruits ever, offensive coordinator Brian Scott answered at first with some coach-speak.
"You never know about recruits until they get on campus," he replied.
Then he paused, for a few seconds and said, "Yes, this is our best class. It's not even close."
ODU signed 23 of 24 players who had committed to the Monarchs, including quarterback Shuler Bentley, the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in South Carolina, and Ray Lawry, a 3-star running back who is one of five new Monarchs from New Jersey.
Safety Byrum Christian from Tallwood High, who turned down offers from four ACC schools, was one of four players from South Hampton Roads to sign. He joins teammate Will Howard and Grassfield High speedsters Vincent Lowe and Isaiah Harper.
ODU's class is rated second in Conference USA and includes 14 3-star players, according to 247Sports recruiting service. The 23 who signed Wednesday join seven others who enrolled at ODU in mid-January.
"We've never had that many 3-star recruits, not even close," coach Bobby Wilder said.
He said given the ratings from recruiting services, "this is clearly the best class we've ever signed. And that's saying a lot, because last year's class was really good."
Wednesday was a day of high-stakes recruiting drama as more established programs attempted to persuade ODU commits to go elsewhere.
The Monarchs suffered a disappointment when Anthony Scott, a 3-star running back from Green Run High, chose East Carolina over ODU and Virginia Tech.
Offensive guard Raul Martinez, a 3-star junior-college recruit from California, also did not sign. Although he committed to ODU last week, he said via text message that he wasn't signing Wednesday. He denied rumors on recruiting websites that he has an offer from Arizona State.
Deion Oliver, an offensive lineman from Warminster, Pa., signed with California after nearly committing to ODU.
But ODU won more than it lost in the final weeks of recruiting - a marked contrast to last year, when, Wilder said, "we were talking about the number of players we lost as opposed to this year, when we're talking about the number of players we gained."
Quintin Reynolds, a wide receiver from Northern Virginia, became the first player to reject an offer from the University of Virginia and sign with ODU. The Cavaliers approached him two weeks ago with a scholarship offer, although they would have delayed his admission until next January.
ODU gained a commitment from Daniel Appouh, a defensive end from Germantown, Md., on Monday, when he turned down Illinois and Indiana.
Wisconsin and North Carolina State made a late run at Byrum. Howard, a wide receiver, rejected a late offer from East Carolina.
Poncho Barnwell, a junior-college transfer from Rochester, N.Y., resisted a late rush from Marshall, as did linebacker Oshane Ximines from Ahoskie, N.C.
"We were able to beat some BCS schools this year," Wilder said. "That's never happened in the past.
"I don't want to overstate it because we certainly lost more battles than we won. But our goal is to get to the BCS-caliber recruiting level.... And I feel like we turned a significant corner."
This year's class is taller and bigger than any prior recruiting class, Wilder said. And of the 30 players in this year's class, 17 are defensive players.
Appouh (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), Barnwell (6-4, 260), defensive tackle Brandon Tyson (6-1, 320), linebacker Reece Schmidt (6-3, 245) and Ximines (6-2, 225) are big and fast, defensive coordinator Rich Nagy said. And ODU added size at defensive back with Byrum (6-1, 195), Justin Noye (6-2, 185), Lawrence Holley (6-2, 185) and Felix Manus-Schell (6-0, 175).
"When these kids walk into a room, they look like FBS football players," Wilder said.
Nagy will have 22 defensive linemen next season, in addition to three new junior college linebackers.
"The goal was to get bigger and longer and we did that at every position," Nagy said. "We had to get bigger and not sacrifice speed. And we got guys who can run."
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