National Signing Day: Catawba signs seven

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 1, 2012

By Mike London
SALISBURY — The Charlotte 49ers signed the program’s first 23 football recruits on Wednesday, the majority of them from the Piedmont.
That’s a fact of life with serious implications for Catawba, but it’s not an event for which the Indians were unprepared.
“UNC Pembroke and Brevard got their programs going, Campbell got started, and now there’s Charlotte,” Catawba head coach Chip Hester said. “It means we’ve had to broaden our horizons a little bit.”
Anticipating a serious regional impact by Charlotte’s entry into the recruiting derby, the Indians stretched their recruiting net over a much wider geographical range than usual. Coaches attended recruiting fairs in Georgia and scouted all-star games in Florida.
Catawba’s defensive ends coach, Radell Lockhart, who played in the NFL, brings major credibility to the recruiting trail, and he spent lots of time in the Sunshine State.
The latest recruiting haul for the Indians isn’t necessarily better or worse, but the hometowns on the roster will be different. When Hester announced Catawba’s first seven official recruits on national signing day, three were from Florida and one hailed from Georgia.
“We’re not looking for a big year as far as the number of signers because we only had 11 seniors and only six were playing a significant amount,” Hester explained. “But we did want to bring in quality, and we feel like we did that. We’re excited about the guys we have so far.”
Catawba put its scholarships into targeted areas where need was greatest. The Indians added track-star wheels at wideout and defensive back and landed a solid center and two big defensive linemen.
Gary Williams isn’t big (5-foot-9, 170 pounds), but he was a monster at South Brunswick as a running back and was county player of the year. He had almost 2,000 yards in rushes and receptions and will be a receiver for the Indians.
Williams picked Catawba over Davidson and UNC Pembroke.
“Very explosive,” Hester said. “He could make an immediate impact.”
Catawba also landed a rangy receiver in Fayetteville Smith’s 6-3 Diante Hodges. He caught eight TD passes, and his family tie is a positive. He’s a cousin of Catawba’s standout linebacker Cory Johnson.
Defensive back Rick Rumph (Daytona Beach, Fla.) was a member of the 6A All-State team in Florida and played in the Central Florida All-Star Game.
Rumph earned the nickname “Honey Badger” for coverage skills akin to those displayed by LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, the original “Honey Badger.” The honey badger is one of the fiercest mammals on the planet.
“Rumph has played against great competition in Florida,” Hester said. “His high school had about 20 guys sign on Wednesday.”
DB Devon Miller is from the metro Atlanta area and was an all-region player.
“He can cover and tackle,” Hester said. “Just extremely fast.”
Johnathan Jean, from Orange Park, Fla, was a 7A All-State player as an offensive lineman, but Hester sees the 6-2, 275-pound horse as an impact defender for the Indians.
“He’s not a fat 275 — he’s a very athletic 275,” Hester said. “He can be great against the run or pass.”
Jean has Haitian roots. His surname is pronounced “John.”
Justice Sandling (6-0, 270) is another Florida defensive linemen. He had eight sacks as a senior.
Finally, closer to home, Catawba landed Charlotte Independence center Drew Morgan (6-2, 285).
“He’s a big guy,” Hester said. “But for a guy his size, he can move really well. He’s an athlete.”
Hester said the recruiting process has only begun for the Indians, and a couple of junior college transfers are expected to be added.