Graduation usually hurts, but National Signing Day often heals, which appears to be the case for Wake Forest, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Wednesday, Feb. 1 the Demon Deacons welcomed 19 signees, including nine new defensive players and seven that are rated as three-star recruits by Rivals.com.
Deacons Illustrated goes through every defensive position group in part two of the Signing Day Scouting Reports, providing expert analysis from the coaches.
With Tristan Dorty and Gelo Orange graduating and Nikita Whitlcock lacking an adequate backup depth across the defensive line is a concern for the Deacs.
Jim Grobe and his staff went a long way in addressing those needs with the additions of defensive ends Josh Banks and Tylor Harris and nose guard Shelldon Lewinson.
Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Banks as a two-star recruit. This season Banks led Apex (NC) Middle Creek to a 10-4 record and third-round appearance in the state playoffs. He recorded 100 tackles and 12 sacks.
Steve Russ on Banks
"We got on Josh very early. He was a junior and we watched his tape, and sitting here going, 'Wow can we even get in on this kid?' What we found is as he came over to walk through the door and we're like, 'Wow what an amazing looking kid. [We] had him in camp, same thing, get a senior tape, same thing. We had offered him after camp, and he had already accepted and the entire time we're watching this we're going, 'Why isn't this kid blowing up and being hugely recruited?' He was District Player of the Year, and for a defensive lineman that's not easy to do, especially when you don't touch the ball a lot."
"He's an extremely disruptive force. He's got great speed, great quickness. He uses his hands. He's physical, he's violent and when you look at Josh a lot of people, he had some offers, he had some good offers, but a lot of people and this is the beauty of what Coach Grobe's trying to do with our 3-4 defense is we can find kids that fit our defensive scheme. Not a lot of people run the 3-4. We find kids that can fit our defensive scheme where somebody goes okay maybe he's a step slow for a 4-3 defensive end, don't know if he can get big enough to play three-technique in a 4-3, but for Wake Forest University in a 3-4 he is exactly what you're looking for, because you're talking about a kid that can play inside and out and do a great of getting after the passer, so that's been a very good move for us going to the 3-4 another by product of what we're doing."
Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Harris as a two-star recruit. He recorded 98 tackles (69 solo), 17 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, eight passes defended and three blocked kicks this season to help lead Baton Rouge (La.) Episcopal to a third-round appearance in the state playoffs and an 11-2 record.
Harris suffered a torn ACL in the final game of the season the day before Thanksgiving. He had surgery Dec. 16, and is now rehabbing it. Grobe said that Wake will be very careful with Harris, and will likely redshirt him.
Ray McCartney on Harris
"[He's a] really high academic kid, has like a 26 on the ACT, 3.8 GPA. I'm a little concerned. I'll be coaching him, and he's a hell of a lot smarter than I am, but I'll just adjust, because he's real athletic, changes direction real well, really physical kid. If he doesn't get the ACL we're probably done, but we've had a history of getting kids with ACL's."
"[He] runs [a] sub 4.7 40 and won the state in the shot put, threw the shot put 59 feet. I don't know much about track, but I told Coach, '59 feet is pretty good.' It was a fit. Now it was ugly. There were a bunch of schools in there. There was some pushing and shoving at the end, but we were very fortunate to get him."
Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Lewinson as a three-star recruit. He recorded 83 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and seven sacks to help lead Armwood to a state championship crown and a 15-0 record.
Grobe said that Lewinson will definitely get a look, but that it is difficult to get Whitlock off the field. He added that Whitlock cannot stand the sidelines, and Grobe does not like out his playmaking nose guard.
Russ on Lewinson
"Shelldon Lewinson is a freak. That's probably the easiest way to describe Shelldon. He can bench press 400 pounds. He can squat over 600 pounds. He runs a 4.6. He's only been playing football for two years. Coach Callahan, legendary coach down there, they won the state championship this year, he said, 'You know I've got a d-lineman that I love, but I don't know if anybody likes him, because he doesn't look like your typical defensive lineman, especially interior d-lineman.' I said, 'Well Coach we're playing with a guy who's 5-9, 250 pounds right now and no one can block him.' He goes, 'Well then I got your guy.' [I] watched him run through drills. This kid can run. He's 4.6 litterally, 240 pounds. He can do all of those things athletically."
"One of the byproducts of running a 3-4 is you can get people that other people look at and go, 'What do I do with this guy?' We know exactly what we're going to do with this guy, and that's put him where he can make plays. We expect really, really big things out of Shelldon."
Wake Forest was already this at outside linebacker, and losing its leader on defense Kyle Wilber made this an even greater area of concern. The Signing Day signatures of Steve Donatell, Kevis Jones provide some much needed relief.
Rivals.com rates the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Donatell as a three-star recruit, the nation's No. 19 dual-threat quarterback and the No. 10 overall prospect in Colorado. He threw for 1,686 yards and 23 touchdowns, and rushed for 625 yards and seven touchdowns to help lead Highlands Ranch to a quarterfinals appearance in the state playoffs and a 9-3 finish.
Russ on Donatell
"I've known Steve since he's been in diapers. That is not why Steve is on this board. I've known a lot of kids since they were in diapers, and I don't want those kids anywhere near an ACC football field."
"Steve is a quarterback that we were recruiting here to play quarterback, but when we got Tyler Cameron the rest of the staff we kept saying, 'Hey we love this kid [Donatell]. We love being around him. We love what he can do athletewise. He's a tremendous athlete, runs a 4.6. He plays four sports. Literally right now he lifts weights during the day, does basketball and then runs track."
"Somebody asked me if we were projecting him as an outside linebacker. We wanted guys on our football team that are football players and we want guys that have great leadership, great character and Stevie possesses all of those things. When we were filled up at quarterback we were like, 'Hey let's get this kid, because no matter where you play him you're going to have a great leader on your football team."
"He has the highest football IQ Coach Elrod talks about first in recruiting. When he came down as a junior on his unofficial visit it was amazing to sit there and talk football with Steve. We sat there and had a conversation about cover two, quarters, and he's talking about corner technique and safety technique and how he was going to look off this guy. It's really cool to have a kid that knows football that much. Part of that is because his father obviously Ed Donatell has been a longtime NFL coach, and was a coach there when I was with the Denver Broncos, so I've known Stevie for a long time. We're really excited to have him in our program."
Grobe called Oakland Park (Fla.) Northeast athlete Kevis Jones a sleeper. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Jones was Mr. Everything for Northeast. He played cornerback, safety, outside linebacker, wide receiver slot, running back and Wildcat quarterback.
Rivals.com rates Jones as a three-star recruit.
Northeast made it to the second round of the state playoffs, and finished with a 7-5 record.
McCartney on Jones
"Kevis Jones may have been one of the funnest kids I've ever recruited in my career, just a wonderful young man. I knew liked this kid the first time I met him. You ask a kid, 'Who's your best friend?' He said, 'My mom's my best friend.' That got my attention. Most kids nowadays don't say that. It's someone that they've been tweeting or talking to on Facebook; not their mom."
"He plays all over the field and is just a really athletic kid. We envision that he'll be 230 within about 18 months. We envision him here as an outside linebacker. We have a need at that position, especially with Kyle Wilber graduating and we were very fortunate to get this young man. We really think he'll fit at Wake Forest, especially since he runs so well. He's about a 4.6 40 kid."
Rivals.com rates Teddy Matthews as a three-star recruit. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Matthews recorded 102 tackles and sacks to help lead Royal Palm Beach made an appearance in the first round of the state playoffs, and finished with a 7-4 record.
McCartney on Matthews
"We got on him first. When the coach says he's the next Stanley Arnoux we're going to listen, because that's what he said about this kid. He's long, athletic, [and] runs well. Coach [Brian] Knorr knows a lot more about track than I do, but he said he ran a 14.5 110 high hurdles and that's supposed to be really good, so I took his word for it. He's really an athlete, who as a first year player with the other coach they were getting their feet wet, and he played, but he didn't play a whole lot. This year he burst on the scene, and was runner up to Palm Beach County Player of the Year, which Dominique Gibson won."
"Our goal is to redshirt him and get him ready for the future."
Wake has two major holes with the exodus of All-American free safety Josh Bush and leading tackler strong safety Cyhl Quarles, which made the signing of Sunshine State products Dominique Gibson and Ryan Janvion essential to the future success of the Demon Deacon defense. Prattville's (Ala.) LaRonji Vason and Deland (Fla.) James Ward will add depth to the cornerback position.
Rivals.com rates the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Gibson as a three-star recruit, the nation's No. 42 outside linebacker and the No. 68 overall prospect in Florida. Gibson recorded 18 tackles for loss, an interception return for a touchdown, and rushed for 302 yards and five touchdowns to help lead Glades Central to a third round appearance in the state playoffs and a 12-1 record.
If the Demon Deacons grow desperate Gibson may see time at running back.
McCartney on Gibson
"[He's the] first kid we've actually taken from Glades Central High School when most of the kids taken have been from Pahokee and Glades Day, but a good in-road to get in there on him. The comment I like knowing how tough-minded our head coach is is when the high school coach looked Coach Grobe right in the eye and said, 'This is the toughest kid I've ever coached in my life.'"
"He was in a couple of All-Star games after the season. He actually played tailback. I mentioned to him once or twice that maybe he could play tailback here. He's a special kid. We had a great home visit with his dad. His mom had passed away, and his dad has remarried and has a wonderful wife. We had a great home visit with the family, and just very fortunate to get him."
Rivals.com rates the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Janvion as a three-star recruit. Janvion averaged 12 tackles per game, recorded three sacks forced three fumbles, rushed 31 times for 280 yards and four touchdowns and caught three passes for 42 yards and a touchdown to help lead Dade Christian to the state playoffs and an 8-2 record.
McCartney on Janvion
"This kid is valedictorian or salutatorian of his high school Dade Christian. It's Daniel Mack's high school. He [Dade's coach] said, 'Mack was a good, solid player for us, but this kid [Janvion] is the best athlete in the history of our school. That got my and Coach Grobe's full attention. [He's a] really athletic kid."
"He's a combination Cuban, and his mom is from the Bahamas. A Latin kid, who is just a phenomenal kid, but is also a really good track athlete and plays four sports, never leaves the field offense, defense. He actually played corner for a couple of years before they actually put him at free, and we envisioned him as a safety though he played a slot receiver and broke a million school records down there."
"I mentioned that we think he could beat out Mack, and he [Mack] wasn't real happy about that, so we've got a competition going between two teammates."
Vason recorded 44 tackles, intercepted four passes, blocked a punt, and was in on the game-saving tackle to preserve Prattville's 35-34 win over Hoover in the state championship and 12-2 finish.
Rivals.com rates the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Vason as a three-star recruit.
Steed Lobotzke on Vason
"We had a junior highlight on him, and Steve Russ said, 'That kid is a no brainer abilitywise,' and the live eval that I had at spring practice I could vouch for his physicality. He's a football junkie. He was sitting in the meeting with Coach Grobe on his official visit, and he said, 'Coach all I think about is football. I just want to play football.' So you got a real football junkie coming to Wake Forest. Hopefully he'll do good for us."
Rivals.com rates Ward as a three-star recruit. He had 23 tackles, 11 pass breakups and four interceptions to help lead Deland to the second round of the state playoffs and a 10-2 record.
Tom Elrod on Ward
"James is a fun kid to be around. When we had our recruiting weekend Holly Grobe [Coach Grobe's wife] came up to me after she met him, and said that kid reminds me a lot of Alphonso Smith, just his personality. The best way to describe James is he's a cross between the Energizer Bunny and that guy from the commercial The Most Interesting Man in the World. He is the most interesting man in the world."
"He plays about every sport that they offer at Deland. Right now he's actually a very good soccer player for them. He never played soccer before, and now he's their starting forward. Every day you learn something new about him, whether it's through his mom or him. You know it's 'Coach, yeah I run track.' Well what events do you run? He runs the 100, the 200, the 400, the 800 and then he runs the mile. What's your best mile time? '4:27,' which is pretty good. You don't normally see a guy that runs sprints and that. [He] plays tennis, and you think well he's just on the team; no he's the number two tennis player on their team. He said he can beat the Brazilian. The Brazilian is number one on the team."
"He repairs cars, surfs, hunts, does all of this crazy stuff, and he's just a fun kid to be around. He is a very explosive athlete too. He's on the weightlifting team, bench presses over 315 pounds. This best thing about him is, his coach will tell you he'll make everyone around him better. He's a good kid always with a smile on his face and just the kind of kid we're trying to recruit."
Stay tuned to Deacons Illustrated for more coverage on Wake Forest's 2012 National Signing Day class, and 2013 football recruiting news coming this week.
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