One year after signing the biggest recruiting class in this six-year tenure at Idaho State, head football coach Mike Kramer announced last Wednesday the signing of 15 players, the smallest in the Kramer era.
Seven of the 15 are from Idaho, four played their high school football in Southern Idaho and four plan to serve an LDS mission.
This year’s class features no junior college transfers and no returned missionaries, but Kramer did say that three players are scheduled to return from missions next season.
“We’re already here,” Kramer said. “The bulk and quantity of a good football team is on-site already and that includes every position.”
Kramer says that ISU will not sign any more players after last week’s signing day because of a lack of scholarships, which Kramer said he is currently over the limit on.
“I do not have room,” Kramer said. “It’s pretty amazing at what we didn’t sign.”
In the FCS, coaches can award the equivalent of 63 full-ride scholarships among no more than 85 individuals. Schools are allowed to award partial scholarships, but this most likely means that Kramer will have to strip scholarships from players already on contract before the 2017 season begins.
According to the Idaho State Journal, Chase Downs and DJ Hagler will be walk-ons.
Kramer also said last week that nine players are scheduled to receive scholarships at the end of spring ball but wouldn’t say how far over he was on his scholarship money and wouldn’t say how many scholarships were handed out last week, saying that most of the players who signed would be on scholarship.
“They still have to have a good spring practice,” Kramer said. “If you take nine scholarships off the table to hold them for the team you have on-site, you don’t have much ink left on the paper.”
For Kramer and his staff, it’s more about rewarding proven ability rather than potential.
“As a coaching staff, we understand the concept of performance and potential,” Kramer said. “Recruiting is potential. When you’re a walk-on and you show us performance, we would rather reward performance rather than potential. I’m much more comfortable rewarding a scholarship to a guy that’s already bled rather than a guy who is going to bleed.”
Last year, ISU signed a quarterback, four running backs, six wide receivers and three defensive linemen. This season, the Bengals are without all of those.
“This year there was a lot more flux in what we we’re doing simply because we didn’t have any immediate needs,” Kramer said. “The reason this class is so shallow is because a lot of our scholarship money is staying at home.”
Despite the crowded scholarship count, ISU signed Isaiah Brimmer, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound receiver.
The Bengals had 12 receivers on the roster last season and three – Pat Carter, KW Williams and Trae Pilster – graduated.
“We felt we had to take him,” Kramer said. “We did not want to take a wide receiver but sometimes a guy who is on a diet has to sneak a cinnamon roll in. He’s our cinnamon roll in this class.”
Connor Stanford, David Rowe, Jacob Ross and Bryon Leckington are planning to serve LDS missions.
Leckington, who played quarterback in high school, has a brother who played quarterback at Weber State and will be converted to linebacker after he returns from his mission.
Kramer says he has the same looks as linebacker Joe Martin, who also played quarterback in high school.
“The way he looks at people,” Kramer said on Leckington. “He is a great competitor and a winner. Am I talking about Bryon or am I talking about Joe Martin?”
Kramer planned to sign two offensive linemen, but ended up with five as the banged up offensive line has been beefing up this offseason.
According to the coach, Jacob Molenaar is up to 340 pounds, Garrett Smith is up 20 pounds from 320, Skyler Phillips is 335 and Brian Fineanganofo is over 300, up 25 pounds from his listed weight on the 2016 roster.
“I like to be a gatherer of big guys,” Kramer said. “We’re starting to build a cadre like I did while I was at Eastern Washington. I’m more familiar and more comfortable with that.”
Phillips will return for a fifth season while Collins will return off an upper-body injury suffered from last season.
Along with Molenaar and Collins, two young players who filled the in the gaps, ISU should be able to utilize the ground game more than it was able to last season.
“We offensively now have the height, weight and speed to not have to throw the ball on every down,” Kramer said. “We will increase some of offensive production on the ground.”
Among those five signed are is a 6-foot-5, 282-pound farm boy, Pake Taylor, from Othello, Washington and 6-foot-2, 265-pound lineman Jake Wilkerson from Rocky Mountain, a school that sent three offensive linemen to D1 schools.
Kramer says the Wilkerson will suit up and travel with the team and may see playing time at center if injuries prove to be problematic.
“The program he played at, produced Jim Bagley,” Kramer said, referring to former ISU offensive lineman in Bagley. “The coaches there felt like he was pretty equivalent to Jim. He played with same temperament.”
Also in in this year’s collection of linemen is Jack-Eli Tufono, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound lineman from Aiwa, Hawaii.
Kramer found Tufono through an old quarterback he coached while at Eastern Washington who is now the offensive coordinator at Punahou High School.
“I went over there about 275 and came back about 295 because you have to sit there and enjoy the dinner,” Kramer said. “Now it will open the door for us to go back to Hawaii.”
Tufono’s father played outside linebacker at Washington and won the 1985 Orange Bowl, beating the second-ranked Oklahoma Sooners. The 6-foot-1 Jayson Miller will move from safety to corner this season as Kramer signed another 6-foot-2 corner, Bryson Toles, to pair with Miller on the outside, saying how ISU needs to get bigger at corner.
Other notables in the signing class are Tyson Manu’s younger brother, Aren and Chris Reynolds Jr.’s younger brother, Tracey.
“We are a good football program and we are ready to go,” “Kramer said. “I’m excited about this signing class but their time is down the road. I’m excited about the football team that is here and the direction we are going.”