Florida A&M University (FAMU) football erupted with excitement from the community with the addition of new head coach Willie Simmons and his newly inducted 2018 recruiting class.
Simmons and his staff did not have as much time as an incumbent head coach would have had to sign recruits. Through this obstacle, the staff put together a stellar class of 20 recruits from the southern United States. The program signed 20 student-athletes, of those nine, were on the offensive side of the ball along with 11 recruits signing on defense.
Simmons added to the quarterback competition on the hill with the signing of two stars, dual-threat QB LeJohn Howard, from New Orleans, Louisiana.
FAMU also added a slew of running backs including all-county selection Derrick Staten Jr., two-star recruit Eddie Tillman and Miami area recruit Bo Kendrick. FAMU will look to improve a rushing attack that averaged 137.4 yards per game, which was good for a sixth-place ranking in the MEAC.
While FAMU lost their top wide-out Brandon Norwood, the team added three receivers in this year's recruiting class. Recruits joining the receiving core include Jacksonville Raines athlete George Webb, three-sport athlete David Manigo as well as Tallahassee area baseball and football athlete Ferante Cowart.
In the trenches, FAMU added two offensive linemen to bolster a unit that only gave up 14 sacks on the season, which ranked second in the MEAC. Lake Mary OL Stephen Nagbe will join Monroe High school signee, Courtney Perkins. Perkins commented on what he brings to the program moving forward.
"I feel as though my athletic ability will be a good fit for the offensive scheme Coach (Alex) Jackson runs." Perkins also added his thoughts on the incoming recruiting class.
"The players that FAMU recruited are some big-time players. I feel like all of us will put on a show for the FAMU fans, and we will also have good chemistry together…With the players and coaches that we got, we will put FAMU back on top."
Defensively, FAMU added 5 defensive backs to a secondary that struggled to force turnovers, ranking ninth in interceptions. While forcing turnovers was an issue for the Rattlers, the pass defense ranked middle of the pack, placing fifth in the MEAC.
New secondary members include Miami area recruits Tim Williams, Chris Metayer, Eric Smith, Herman Jackson and Jordan Dilliard. Smith, from Miami Norland High School, chose FAMU over several FBS offers including Florida International University and Ole Miss University. Jackson comes to the hill with plenty of potentials as he also received an FBS offer from Temple University. Dillard proved to be a versatile athlete in high school playing both receiver and defensive back at Miami Southridge.
Smith boasted confidence in his comments about his plans once arriving on the hill.
"I'm very excited to be a Rattler, personally I will bring a big spark to the team, which was missing. I plan on coming and starting off the bat." Smith also added, "Being apart of the FAMUly was not planned, I had multiple big-time offers. But when the time occurred FAMU was the only one in my corner. I feel like we are going to have the strongest secondary in the MEAC, no doubt about it."
While talent in the secondary is important for any successful defense, the front seven must provide stellar play in order for the unit to thrive. Simmons and his staff added several key pieces, signing three linebackers alongside three defensive linemen.
At linebacker the Rattlers added two-star recruit, Kyle Jackson, ASA College Juco recruits Demetrius Powell and Tampa area recruit Quinlan Gatlin.
The Rattlers will need to improve their rush defense in order to compete for a MEAC title, as they ranked just seventh in rush defense among MEAC teams. Defensive line recruits include Abu Bangura, Justin Cooks, and Tony Mills. Bangura received an FBS offer from Georgia Southern, though ultimately signed with the Rattlers. Cooks proved to be a defensive powerhouse at defensive end contributing 9 tackles for loss, and also contributed on special teams with 2 blocked field goals. Mills wreaked havoc from the defensive tack and end positions, posting seven sacks in his senior season.
With a host of new talent and coaches, FAMU will undoubtedly have high expectations heading into the 2018 season. The Rattlers will get their first taste of MEAC competition September 22 against Savannah State University. While contract negotiations are still ongoing in regards to non-conference games, Willie Simmons and the team are expected to have their first game action against Jackson State University on Sept. 15.