From four local signees to twin brothers coming from Elgin, a pair of current Texans’ little brothers and players coached by Tarleton alumni, familiarity certainly played a role in Tarleton State head coach Cary Fowler and staff signing 32 high school players to National Letters of Intent on Wednesday, known as National Signing Day.
“I don’t think we lost anybody we visited with on campus and offered, and that’s a credit to Tarleton State. When kids come on our campus and see the growth and excitement, they fall in love with it and want to be a part of it,” said Fowler, whose class is comprised solely of players from Texas. “We want to invest in Texas high school football players. Even with our mid-term transfers, you can see that we never left the state of Texas to recruit this year.”
While college football heavyweights held lavish ceremonies and were in the television limelight throughout signing day, Tarleton, in the Division II ranks, held a press conference for fifth-year head coach Cary Fowler to discuss his class with local media Thursday in the Texan Room inside Wisdom Gym.
Fowler also announced the addition of 10 mid-term transfers – one from the Division I Football Championship Subdivision and nine from junior colleges – who enrolled at Tarleton in January, lifting the total to 42 new Texans.
“We were looking to sign 25 guys, and usually on signing day you lose a couple. Believe it or not, we kept everyone and even had a couple call us who were committed other places but wanted to come here,” said Fowler. “A couple even had offers from the FCS level, and that’s a credit to our coaches and to Tarleton State. Kids want to play here, and they want to go to our school.”
The local players include Stephenville offensive lineman Noah Perez and linebackers Justice Wisener and Josh Gillespie, and Dublin quarterback Brady Holleman.
“The local kids are big signs for us. I always want to be careful to make sure those kids know they aren’t just recruited to Tarleton because they’re from Stephenville or Dublin,” said Fowler. “If you look at the type of kids we got out of Stephenville, they are kids the community probably thought would play at the Division I level. They’ll be big licks for us. The thing I tell them is be patient, because they are probably coming in as redshirt freshmen and that’s a good thing. They’ll be better players five or six years from now than they’ll be six months from now.”
Tarleton also signed three players from Waco Midway, coached by Tarleton Athletic Hall of Fame member Terry Gambill, and three from Elgin, where head coach Jim Garfield is a personal friend of Fowler’s after Garfield was head coach at Rider High School while Fowler was defensive coordinator at Midwestern State, both in Wichita Falls.
“Terry Gambill is always going to help his kids go to the next level, wherever they want to go, but while he doesn’t push them to come here, they see his passion for Tarleton State,” said Fowler. “We have so many former players and students who didn’t play here who are coaches, and those guys are some of our best recruiters just because of the passion they have for Tarleton, and their kids see that.”
Colin and Kyle Snell are twins from Elgin Fowler says can play multiple positions. Kyle will be tried first at quarterback, Fowler says.
Dacion Harris, a defensive end and linebacker from Mansfield Timberview, may be the best known player in the class. Tarleton’s profile on Harris boasts he is a “second-ballot All-American,” and he is listed as 5A Associated Press Sports Editors All-State selection as well as a Fort Worth Star-Telegram Super Team pick.
“He could play linebacker or defensive end or us, he can play inside and outside. He’s a huge pickup,” Fowler said Harris, who helped Timberview spend a portion of last season ranked No. 1 in 5A by the Associated Press. “He had a lot of offers and opportunities, but (Defensive coordinator Henry Coffer) got him to visit us, and he fell in love with the place and committed.”
The class features 12 offensive linemen, including eight prep prospects and four transfers. Lineman Justin Reasons, 6-3, 290, has transferred from FCS member Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. He played in eight games as a freshman in 2013 and two last season.
“We needed some help there because most of our starters are seniors (this fall),” said Fowler. “(Assistant head coach Mason Miller) told me he wants to have 20 linemen to work with, and now we have that here.”
There are seven defensive backs, five from high school and two transfers. Some players are listed as hybrid defensive ends and linebackers. Players at those two positions make up 11 spots on the list, one of them a junior college transfer. The class includes five other defensive linemen, three of them transfers.
Fowler made headlines when he upheld his offer to Everman running back Darian Norris, a speedster who was receiving Division I attention up until the very end of the recruiting process. Norris suffered a fractured neck and back in a car accident last week behind Everman High School.
“This was a very unique situation, and when I finally talked to his mom, she didn’t ask for anything,” Fowler said. “I just told her I am committed to him whether he’s able to play or not able to play. If he’s not, he can come be a coach for us. She broke down in tears and was thankful.”
Here is a look at the entire class: