MARSHALL - A big group with big guys who put up big numbers.
Top to bottom, Southwest Minnesota State head football coach Cory Sauter says this is the best class he's brought in as he enters his fourth year at the helm. Sauter announced the signing of 33 student-athletes on national signing day Wednesday, the first day players are allowed to sign national letters of intent.
The Mustangs' 2013 recruiting class, comprised of high school players and junior college transfers from 10 different states, includes seven defensive backs, six offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, four linebackers, three wide receivers, two running backs, a tight end and a quarterback. There are two other players listed as running backs/defensive backs, and another listed as a running back/wide receiver.
"Each year I think we've really enhanced our overall talent of the football team and this recruiting class really, on paper, looks pretty solid," said Sauter, whose Mustangs finished 4-7 in 2012. "Only time will tell as far as how good they will be. For us, it's hard not to get excited about them just from what we've seen on film. I just feel very confident about this group and think it will be a special recruiting class for us down the road."
The Mustangs had clear needs to address with this recruiting class, namely on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield. Known as mostly a passing offense in the past, SMSU found success running the football in 2012 behind a strong offensive line that allowed the Mustangs to rush for 171.6 yards per game, which ranked sixth in the 16-team Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. But all of those offensive linemen will be seniors in the upcoming season, meaning the SMSU coaching staff had to make a move to secure another dependable group of blockers.
The six offensive linemen that the Mustangs signed Wednesday look massive on paper, as they are all listed 6-foot-4 or taller. Dante Copeland, a 6-5, 325-pound lineman from Panora, Iowa, is the largest of the bunch. Kane Hutchinson, a recruit from Granby, Colo., is the tallest at 6-7, 275.
Sauter values a big offensive line not just to keep the running game going, but to protect one of his prized recruits in 6-4, 197-pound quarterback Blake Gimbel. Gimbel follows in the footsteps of Tyler Peschong, the Mustangs' signal-caller over the past two years, hailing from Marshalltown High School in Iowa. There Gimbel threw for a single-season state record of 3,979 yards as a junior in 2011, then tied his own record as a senior. He also has the record for most pass completions in a season (301 in 2012) and holds the state's single-game record for passing yards (567 in 2011).
"He can throw the heck out of the ball, he's got a strong arm and he's played in a system where he's thrown a lot of footballs," Sauter said of Gimbel. "He's got a lot of reps, seen a lot of looks and that's something you can't replicate.
"We just feel very confident in him. He's able to make all the throws, he makes great decisions and he's been very productive. I think he's going to be a good one down the road. He's obviously got a big jump going from high school to college, but I think he's going to be very eager to get on campus and start learning our system. I think he'll be a kid who will emerge as one of the top players here in this conference."
The SMSU coaches also expressed excitement about some of the other skill position players the team is bringing in. Six-foot receiver Mike Williams is one of them, and he's already on campus. A junior college transfer from Antelope Valley College, Williams is a versatile playmaker that can work out of the slot, as a tight end or on the edges.
SMSU coaches also spoke highly of Cameron Parus, a big 6-4, 200-pound receiver who they say runs well for his size. And in the backfield, the Mustangs signed quick, physical running back Ashanti Payne out of Robbinsdale Cooper High School. He's a player coaches say remind them of Warren Matthews, the Mustangs' lone first team All-NSIC South Division honoree in 2012.
The Mustangs also picked up some local talent they hope can develop into playmakers on either side of the ball. They signed three players from Class A powerhouse Dawson-Boyd, which won the state title in 2011 and was a semifinalist in 2012. Nathaniel Huot gives the team a weapon at receiver, while Justin Lee (linebacker) and Brandon Schmitt (defensive lineman) hope to develop into impact players on the other side of the ball.
SMSU also signed one Marshall product in 6-6 defensive end Alex Werner. He's one of 12 players from Minnesota who will be joining the Mustangs.
"It's always nice to get some local kids, especially if they have the talent to play at the Division II level," Sauter said. "Some of them are going to find out where they fit as far as positionally, but it's always nice to get local guys. The community likes to see that and they have talent, so it's just a matter of having them go out and compete and have the best guys emerge."
The Mustangs brought in players from not only the Midwest (eight players from Wisconsin, three from Iowa, two from South Dakota), but a handful well out of what would be considered the expected target area (three from Florida, one from California, one from Georgia).
Dallin Finley, a 5-9 speedster from Kennesaw, Ga., is a player that Sauter said could either be used as a running back or a defensive back. There are a number of players in SMSU's 2013 recruiting class that could go either way, but Sauter definitely needs some of them to step up in the defensive backfield.
"We're going to have to have some guys emerge because we only have two guys coming back who have played," Sauter said. "It's going to take probably at least three of these kids who will have to come in at some capacity, so it will be an important fall for us to get that solidified and I'm looking forward to seeing that competition emerge."
The Mustangs are scheduled to begin spring practice on April 1 and will kick off their 2013 season Sept. 7 with an NSIC home game against St. Cloud State.
2013 SMSU National Letter of Intent signees:
Rakeem Felder, DL, 6-foot-2, 255, Osseo
All-conference honoree ... named second team all-metro and second team all-state ... finished senior season with 51 tackles and seven sacks ... also in basketball.
Nathaniel Huot, WR, 6-1, 190, Dawson (Dawson-Boyd HS)
Two-time all-conference honoree ... honorable mention all-state ... all-area by Marshall Independent and West Central Tribune ... caught 58 passes for 1,079 yards and eight touchdowns as senior ... also rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries ... recorded seven interceptions as a junior ... helped lead team to 2011 Class A state championship and 2012 state semifinals ... 2012 Marshall Independent Player of the Year in basketball ... also plans on playing basketball at SMSU.
Justin Lee, LB, 6-1, 195, Dawson (Dawson-Boyd HS)
Three-time all-conference honoree ... named co-conference offensive MVP ... rushed for 1,239 yards and 22 touchdowns as senior ... also had 65 tackles as senior ... named all-area ... rushed for 1,621 yards and 19 touchdowns as junior with 108 tackles ... finished career with 4,161 yards ... recorded 264 career tackles with 10.5 sacks ... helped lead team to 2011 Class A state championship and 2012 state semifinals.
Derek Malbrue, LB, 6-1, 230, Blaine (Spring Lake Park HS)
Three-year letterwinner ... team captain .... all-conference as senior ... started on offensive line and linebacker ... member of conference champion football team ... recorded 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks with one interception ... all-conference honoree in track ... also letterwinner in wrestling.
Matt Overgaard, TE, 6-2, 220, Luverne
Two-time letterwinner ... also letterwinner in basketball and baseball.
Ashanti Payne, RB, 5-10, 190, Brooklyn Park (Robbinsdale Cooper HS)
Named all-conference ... named conference offensive MVP ... named to Minnesota Vikings All-State team ... rushed for 1,432 yards as senior ... also recorded 52 tackles.
Michael Rivera, DB, 5-11, 160, Windom
Named all-conference ... three-year letterwinner ... also in track.
Brandon Schmitt, DL, 6-1, 260, Dawson (Dawson-Boyd HS)
All-conference and all-area honoree ... named conference MVP and defensive lineman of the year ... Minnesota Vikings all-state team ... team captain ... helped lead team to 2011 Class A state championship and 2012 state semifinals ... had more than 100 career tackles and 25 sacks ... also a standout in wrestling with over 100 career wins ... two-time state qualifier in wrestling.
Johnny Ware, DB, 5-9, 170, Minneapolis (Osseo HS/Itasca C.C.)
Transfer from Itasca Community College ... has three years of eligibility remaining at SMSU ... recorded 14 tackles during 2012 season ... finished with two interceptions and 14 pass break-ups.
Max Weaver, OL, 6-4, 285, Northfield
Two-time all-conference honoree ... team MVP ... two-time team offensive lineman of the year ... named team most inspirational ... also played on defensive line and recorded 27 tackles and two sacks as senior.
Alex Werner, DL, 6-6, 230, Marshall
Three-year letterwinner ... named all-conference and all-area ... led team with eight sacks ... started on offensive line ... member of three conference championship teams ... older brother Nathan is a member of SMSU football team.
Sam Westre, OL, 6-5, 285, Hastings
EXCEL academic award honoree ... also in basketball and baseball.
Kevin Baumann, DL, 6-4, 225, Pewaukee, Wis.
All-conference during senior season as offensive lineman ... two-time honoable mention all-conference at defensive end ... recorded 32 tackles and five for loss as senior ... finished career with 58 tackles and four sacks.
Austin Fischer, DL, 6-3, 260, Hartland, Wis. (Arrowhead HS)
Three-year letterwinner ... second team all-conference honoree ... had 32 tackles and four sacks as senior ... member of starting defense in 2012 that allowed only eight touchdowns all season and won state championship ... also in track.
Alex Giles, RB/DB, 5-9, Belgium, Wis. (Cedar Grove-Belgium HS)
Three-time letterwinner ... three-time team offensive MVP ... team captain ... three-time first team all-conference ... two-time all-state honoree ... school's all-time leading rusher ... rushed for more than 5,000 yards in career ... also in basketball and track.
Matt Iverson, DB, 5-11, 185, Hudson, Wis.
Two-time letterwinner ... named honorable mention all-conference ... recorded 36 tackles and 5.5 sacks during senior season ... had 79 career tackles and five pass break-ups ... also in track.
Clint Long, OL, 6-4, 260, Gillett, Wis.
Three-year letterwinner ... second team all-conference on both offensive and defensive line ... played defensive tackle and had 24 tackles ... also in basketball and track.
Bilal Louzati, LB, 6-0, 220, Fitchburg, Wis. (Verona HS)
Two-time first team all-conference ... conference inside linebacker of the year ... all-area ... all-region ... named first team all-state ... team captain ... racked up 126 tackles with 15 for loss and four sacks as senior ... recorded more than 220 tackles in career with seven sacks.
Jay Schneider, RB/WR, 5-10, 175, Mequon, Wis. (Homestead HS)
Also will run track at SMSU ... two-time all-conference ... named all-region ... member of 2012 Division 2 state championship team ... three-year letterwinner ... rushed for 875 yards during senior season ... also caught 20 passes for 333 yards ... finished season with 19 touchdowns ... named team and special teams player of the year ... three-time state track medalist ... also in swimming.
Andrew Terwilliger, OL, 6-5, 280, Fitchburg, Wis. (Verona HS)
Two-time all-conference ... helped team to nine wins ... honorable mention all-state ... named conference offensive lineman of the year ... all-region ... team rushed for more than 2,6000 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2012 ... team averaged 258 yards rushing and 35 points per game ... three-year starter.
Bryan Mitchell, DB, 6-0, 172, Lakeland, Fla.
Recorded 31 tackles and three pass break-ups as senior ... had three career interceptions and 58 career tackles.
Andrico Rolle, DB, 6-3, 190, Miami, Fla. (Somerset Academy HS/Ridgwater College)
Transfer from Ridgwater College ... has two years of eligibility remaining at SMSU ... selected to North vs. South South Florida All-Star game ... finished high school with 63 tackles, 15 pass break-ups and two interceptions.
Davontay Stevens, RB, 5-8, 195, Jacksonville, Fla. (Wolfson HS/Ridgewater College)
Transfer from Ridgewater College ... has two years of eligibility remaining at SMSU ... two-time all-conference honoree ... rushed for 714 yards and six touchdowns in 2011 ... named Ridgewater's offensive most valuable players both seasons ... named to all-academic team ... named most valuable player in the 2009 Florida versus Georgia All-Star game.
Dante Copeland, OL, 6-5, 235, Panora, Iowa (Panorama HS)
First team all-district and third team all-state as senior ... named first team all-state as junior ... three time all-district honoree ... also in basketball and track.
Blake Gimbel, QB, 6-4, 197, Marshalltown, Iowa
Two-year starter ... passed for state record 3,979 yards during both junior and senior seasons ... set state record with 301 pass completions as a senior with 39 touchdown passes ... also rushed for 257 yards and seven touchdowns during 2012 ... in 2011, set state single-game record with 567 yards passing ... finished career passing for 8,158 yards and 77 touchdowns ... two-time first team all-conference ... two-time first team all-state ... also named all-conference in basketball.
Jake Mills, DB, 6-0, 185, Ames, Iowa
First team all-conference ... named to Elite All-Western team ... second team all-state ... led Iowa Class 4A in interceptions and return yards ... tied national high school record with two interception returns for touchdowns in one quarter ... finished career with eight interceptions, including three for touchdowns ... twice named second team all-conference.
Alex Thorson, LB, 6-0, 205, Onida, S.D. (Watertown HS)
All-conference honoree ... honorable mention all-state as punter ... named team defensive MVP ... recorded 44 solo tackles and two interceptions during senior season ... also had four forced fumbles ... four-year letterwinner ... named team outstanding running back as junior.
Tony Tripp, DB, 5-10, 183, Brandon, S.D. (Brandon Valley HS)
Named first team all-conference as running back ... rushed for 864 yards and 15 touchdowns as senior ... named all-state as defensive back ... helped lead team to runer-up finish in Class AA ... named all-conference and all-state as defensive back as junior ... also in track.
Mike Williams, WR, 6-0, Lancaster, Calif. (Lancaster HS/Antelope Valley College)
Transfer from Antelope Valley College ... has two years of eligibility remaining at SMSU ... caught 28 passes for 383 yards and four touchdowns as sophomore in 2012, ranking 10th in conference in yards ... named second team all-conference in high school ... played in HDCFA all-star game ... named team most valuable defensive back in both junior and senior seasons .. also in track.
Kane Hutchinson, OL, 6-7, 275, Granby, Colo. (Middle Park HS)
Three-time all-conference selection ... first team all-state ... named all-conference in shot put and discus.
Dallin Finley, RB/DB, 5-9, 160, Kennesaw, Ga. (Kennesaw Mountain HS)
Team captain ... team MVP ... named all-county ... selected for North Georgia Senior Bowl Game ... multi-year letterwinner in track.
Jake Glotzer, DB, 5-10, 175, Skokie, Ill. (Niles West HS)
Two-year letterwinner ... named team MVP ... recorded 46 tackles and four interceptions during senior season ... also rushed for 150 yards and had 111 receiving yards ... ended senior season with seven touchdowns ... finished career with 79 tackles and seven interceptions.
Cameron Parus, WR, 6-4, 200, Newburg, Ind. (Castle HS)
Two-time first team all-conference ... two-time first team all-metro ... caught 74 passes for 1,273 yards and 19 touchdowns as senior ... finished career with 149 receptions for 2,646 yards and 36 touchdowns ... set school record for career touchdowns ... tied school record for receiving touchdowns in single season ... 2011 honorable mention all-state ... three-year letterwinner ... also in basketball.
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