Old Dominion's football program has yet to prove it has the moxie to defeat Minnesota, Houston, Temple or Syracuse on the field. But on national signing day, the Monarchs claimed recruiting victories against all four.
ODU on Wednesday announced its first recruiting class since it made the decision in May to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision. ODU had 23 signees, which combined with 11 players who enrolled in January, give the Monarchs a 34-man recruiting class.
It is by far the biggest and most highly rated of any recruiting class in ODU's short football history, with 18 players rated as two-star recruits or better by Rivals.com or ESPN. Eight are from junior colleges and 26 are high school seniors.
There were a couple of surprises on signing day, too. Florida International wide receiver Nick England, who played with ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke in high school, signed with the Monarchs. He plans to transfer and sit out next season, as required by the NCAA.
Keshawn Henderson, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver from Dallas, committed to ODU early Wednesday, according to ESPN, rejecting an offer from Minnesota. His coach, Elzie Barnett, said that right now "he's leaning toward ODU," but wants to visit the school this weekend. Barnett said Henderson likely will sign scholarship papers Sunday night.
ODU signed some high-profile players, headed by quarterback Shane McCarley from Manvel High in suburban Houston.
He rejected offers from Temple and Louisiana Tech in favor of the Monarchs. When Houston offered him a scholarship last week, he reaffirmed his commitment to ODU.
"Old Dominion is where I want to go play football and go to school," said McCarley, who threw for 4,101 yards and 55 touchdowns as a senior.
Cullen Casey, a defensive tackle from Rochester, N.Y., rated a three-star recruit by ESPN, turned down two Mid-American Conference schools. He said Syracuse began to recruit him in recent weeks, but he quickly told coaches there not to waste their time.
"I told them I wasn't interested, that I wanted to go to Old Dominion," he said.
Casey said ODU quarterbacks coach Ron Whitcomb, a Rochester native, began recruiting him during his sophomore season.
"I felt comfortable with the coaches and the players at Old Dominion," he said.
Tailback Cam Boyd, a Portsmouth native and junior college transfer, turned down Memphis and Middle Tennessee.
Rashaad Coward, a defensive tackle from Brooklyn, turned down a late offer from Connecticut.
Wilder said McCarley's decision to attend ODU made a statement about where the program is headed.
"He turned down his hometown school," Wilder said. "And he's coming halfway across the country to a school that's transitioning to FBS.
"He wants to come here; he believes in what we're doing. A lot of kids could have gone to other schools who decided to come to Old Dominion."
ODU also had some recruiting losses in recent days, especially in Virginia, where Sharif Finch from Richmond decommitted from ODU to attend Temple and Phoebus High's Mark Wilson decommitted to sign with Cincinnati. ODU also lost Demetri McGill from Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach to East Carolina and had earlier lost Josh Marriner from Western Branch High to Connecticut.
"I kind of have mixed emotions about this class from Virginia," Wilder said. "The most players in this class are from Virginia. We have eight. But I felt like there could have been more."
ODU has five players from Hampton Roads - Kanyia Anderson and Melvin Vaughn from Oscar Smith High, Richie Staton and Atavius Matthews from Phoebus and Daquin Moore from Hampton High.
Wilder said he hopes most of ODU's freshmen will redshirt. The eight junior college players were recruited "to protect the high school players, to allow us to develop them.
"In 2014, when we begin playing in Conference USA, we want those kids to be ready to play at a championship level. But some of those kids may have to be ready to play at a championship level next season."
Wilder also said ODU's recruiting for 2013 isn't done.
"We'll stop recruiting when we feel like there aren't Conference USA players out there left to recruit," he said.
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