Coach excited about ’14 class

Those who know University of Arkansas at Monticello football coach Hud Jackson know he’s an excitable guy. But even Jackson could hardly contain his enthusiasm last Wednesday during a National Signing Day reception in the Indoor Practice Facility.

Jackson was introducing his fourth class of recruits to a fairly packed room that afternoon—and those in attendance could tell he was wanting to get on the practice field even then. It won’t be long until he’ll get to do that. UAM’s spring practice begins March 11 and concludes with the annual Green-White game on April 11.

There are two mid-year transfers the UAM coaching staff will get to see in the spring and, come fall, there’ll be 18 new freshmen taking their places in the Boll Weevils’ locker room. Some will vie for playing time immediately and others will provide depth for UAM as the Weevils look to improve on last year’s 5-6 finish.

“It’s a class we’re very, very excited about,” Jackson said of the 2014 recruits. “I feel it’s one of our stronger recruiting classes. I know this because we’ve been here four years and watched the progress of the team we have here at UAM.

“We’ve watched those kids we recruited four years ago that are seniors or juniors this year. We’ve seen the growth. We’ve seen the type of people we’ve brought in—great character young men who have worked extremely hard to make our program really good. We’re excited about the 20 young men we’ve signed. This class is very special.”

Six players from Arkansas highlight the class, including one from UAM’s back yard. Offensive lineman Ryan Tassin of Monticello is moving down the street and changing his blue and white uniform for the Weevils’ green and white.

Offensive lineman Dillon Cagle of Hoxie, safety Malik Clemons of Conway, cornerback Keyondre Jones of Camden Fairview, linebacker Josh Pike of Wilbur Mills University Studies in Little Rock and mid-year transfer Derek Johnson of Hoxie are the other players from Arkansas on the list. The state of Louisiana has the most recruits, 10; three are from Texas and one is from Tennessee.

“I get excited thinking about it because I know where it’s going,” Jackson said of the UAM football program. “We knew what we were doing four years ago when we took the job and we know where we’re going 5-6, or however many years they’re going to let me stay here, seasons in the future. We know the direction is going to be a very positive one.

“It’s very, very exciting times for Boll Weevil football. We’re looking forward to these guys when they come on campus.”

Jackson, after thanking many people, got down to the business of introducing the 2014 class. Here’s a breakdown on each player, with what their future head coach had to say about them (in alphabetical order):

• Mason Bateman, 6-foot, 275 pounds, center from Gonzales, La.’s East Ascension High School: A three-year starter in high school, Bateman is a two-time all-district and academic all-state performer. He graded out 90 percent for the year by his prep coaches in 2013, registering 35 knockdowns.

What the coach says: “He’s a very smart young man. He’s going to benefit from the great education he’s going to get at UAM but we’re going to benefit because we’re getting a really great football player. He’s very intelligent not only in the classroom but on the football field. He’ll probably break some of our records in the weight room because he’s very, very strong. I think he’ll be a guy that will represent our university well.”

• Vassiel Beason, 5-10, 205, linebacker from Cordova (Tenn.) High School: Leading his high school team with 75 total tackles last season, Beason was a team captain, first team all-conference and was listed in the Memphis Best of the Preps. He also had a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown—the longest in school history—during his senior campaign.

What the coach says: “He is very committed to playing the linebacker position. He studies it, he understands it and when you watch tape on him, you can tell he’s been coached up well. He’s not only a guy that going to help us on the defensive side of the football but he’s also excited about being a part of special teams. I like those guys because I think they become better all-round football players when they want to do a lot of things.”

• Cagle, 6-8, 315:  A three-year, two-way starter, Cagle was a two-time all-conference and all-state pick. He graded out 90 percent for the season with 34 knockdowns, and was named to the KAIT-TV Super Team, the Jonesboro Sun’s ‘Best Under the Sun’ Team and Hooten’s Magazine’s Super Sonic Team.

What the coach says: “He’s a big guy but he’s put together really well. He got looks from Arkansas State and a couple other Division I programs but he wants to be a game warden. Having that degree program here really helped us with getting him. He committed to us on the first weekend and never wavered.”

• Jonathan Caples, 6-2, 215, linebacker from West Monroe, La. High School: Caples was selected first team all-state and all-district in 2013.

What the coach says: “He’s a young man that going to be able to put on a lot of good weight. He’s a good football player that comes from a very good program. It’s always good to have a football player come into your program who knows and understands how to win.”

• Clemons, 6-3, 195: In 2013, Clemons recorded 34 total tackles, two interceptions, seven passes broken up and one forced fumble. He was a two-year starter in the defensive backfield for the Wampus Cats and was a defensive team captain. An all-state runner in track and field, Clemons was also twice named to the all-conference team in football.

What the coach says: “I think he’s going to be a real steal. What he’s weighing now is not going to be what he’s going to be weighing when he’s done playing football at UAM. He’s got a great frame, he runs really well and probably would have been involved in a lot more plays but I think a lot of people threw away from him. People didn’t want to throw into his coverage. He’s got a tremendous up side.”

‘• Malcolm Darensbourg, 5-10, 190, linebacker from Destrehan, La. High School: Recording 97 tackles as a sophomore and 82 as a senior, Darensbourg was a three-year starter and three-time second team all-district. He helped lead his team to a 12-2 record in 2013 and into the Class 5A playoffs.

What the coach says: “He comes from a program in South Louisiana that is very high on winning. Malcolm was getting recruited and had been offered by Alcorn State (University) but the coach they had left, so they dropped him. We took a look at him and fell in love with him. When you see him play, you can tell he’s had good coaching. He understands and knows the game.”

• P.J. Douglas, 5-10, 175, wide receiver from Haughton, La. High School: Finishing his prep career with 126 receptions, Douglas was a first team all-district and all-Bossier Parish selection in 2013.

What the coach says: “The one thing that stands out about P.J. is, although he’s only 5-10, he’s got some of the biggest hands I’ve ever seen. When he plays, you can tell that because of the catches he makes. He’s going to compete and put pressure on guys we already have here. He’s going to bring a lot to the table.”

• Dalvin Dunn, 6-0, 260, defensive end from Baton Rouge, La. Tara High School: A three-year starter and two-time all-district selection, Dunn recorded 48 total tackles, five sacks, 10 tackles for losses and two fumble recoveries as a senior.  

What the coach says: “He was getting recruited by a couple of teams from our conference. He actually got in an accident on his way to a visit, broke some ribs and they didn’t want him to come back. Somebody else’s loss is our gain. If he’s not well for the fall, we’ll be able to redshirt him so he can get himself healthy. He’s a tremendous football player.”

• Johnson, 6-3, 350:  Originally signing with the University of Texas out of high school, Johnson transferred to Arkansas State University and played five games for the Red Wolves in 2010. He was a prep All-America and two-time all-state performer at Hoxie High School. He totals 255 tackles and 13 sacks in his prep career, which earned him the top defensive tackle ranking in the state of Arkansas and the state’s third best overall player by Rivals.com. Johnson was named Northeast Arkansas Newcomer of the Year and made all-conference as a sophomore, and will have two years of eligibility remaining.  

What the coach says: “He’s 6-3 and 350 pounds and he’s all of that, but he’s not what you would think when you see a 350-pound man. He’s put together. He got out of football for two years and now he’s back with us. I hear the kids talking about how much he lifts, how strong he is. He’ll have two years with us, so that’s something we’re looking forward to.”

• Keyondre Jones, 6-1, 184: Honors after his senior year included being part of the Rivals.com Natural 21 and all-conference in football. Keyondre Jones was also all-Class 5A in the 100 meters, running a 10.7.

What the coach says: “We got on him late in the process, thanks to coach (Buck) James, a former Weevil himself. He kind of fell in our lap. He played a lot of man-to-man coverage and he was put in some tough situations during the year but he did a tremendous job.”

• Keythyn Jones, 6-01, 190, safety from Poteet High School in Mesquite, Texas: Part of his team’s University Interscholastic League Class 4A district championship, Keythyn Jones was a two-year starter. Totaling 42 total tackles and one interception as a senior, he was honored with an all-district selection.  

What the coach says: “He’s a very, very special player. We’re extremely excited about him being a part of our program. His up side is one that can lead to some great things before his career ends here at UAM.”

• Pike, 6-0, 175: A three-year letterman at Mills, Pike was a team captain, all-conference and all-state. He led the Comets in both tackles and sacks in 2013, and was part of the 4x400 district championship relay team in track, where he also earned all-conference honors.

What the coach says: “He’s a guy that just wants an opportunity. Before we even talked about scholarships, he was already bought in. He was ready to come be a part of our program. You can tell he’s got a plan, he wants to work that plan and he wants to be something special. He’s locked in and ready to go.”

• Cody Smith, 6-0, 210, safety from Loranger, La. High School: A defensive captain, Smith was a two-time all-district honoree in football. Also lettering in track and field, Smith was on the all-region team in that sport.

What the coach says: “His recruiting process happened fast. You can tell Cody gets in the weight room, works out hard, does everything his coaches say, and he’s committed and disciplined. We feel like he’s a guy who slipped through the (Division I) cracks. I feel like we’re very fortunate to have gotten Cody up here.”

• Dwaylen Spain, 50-11, 255, defensive tackle from Baldwin, La. West Saint Mary High School: He was a four-year starter on the defensive line and was a two-time all-district performer. Spain was also a three-time New Iberia, La. Daily Iberian Best of the Teche selection.

What the coach says: “He is a tremendous talent. He has tremendous work ethic. He’s going to be a tremendous asset to our program and we’re looking forward to having him here. I think if it was up to him, he’d probably move here right now and get started.”

• Tassin, 6-7, 310: A UAM legacy (his father Alan played on the offensive line in 1995), Tassin was a two-year starter on the Billies’ offensive line. As a senior, he was all-conference. Tassin played the center position for Monticello but UAM plans to use him at offensive tackle. 

What the coach says: “We’re really excited about being able to keep this guy here with us. He’s got a tremendous up side. He’s obviously got a big body. When it’s all about football and school, he’s going to benefit a lot. Getting in the weight room and eating right will help him blossom into a really good football player before he leaves UAM.”

• Alex Taylor, 5-11, 220, running back from North Webster High School in Springhill, La.: Taylor played quarterback in high school, where he was first team all-district, second team all-Northeast Louisiana and all-state academic selection.

What the coach says: “When Alex has the football in his hands, he does some really special things. He understands hole recognition, he understands when he needs to get vertical—not run from side to side—and the best part about him is he’s smart. We’re not going to have to worry about him in the classroom and he likes to watch tape. He’s another guy who would move up here today if we had asked him to do that.”

• Jalen Tolliver, 6-3, 215, wide receiver from Monroe, La. Ouachita High School: Tolliver’s honors as a senior included all-district, all-state and all-Northeast Louisiana.

What the coach says: “It’s pretty amazing watching him play how athletic he is but the most amazing thing, from the first time I met him, is he’s got a presence about himself. He does everything right. He doesn’t do things that would make you question his maturity level. He’s a really good football player. He was offered full scholarships by two Division I schools and he turned them down to come to UAM. He understands loyalty and he’s going to be a very good football player.

• Ja’lon Watts, 5-10, 200, outside linebacker from Gonzales, La. East Ascension High School: A three-year starter, Watts was also a three-time all-district honoree. He was the 2013 team Most Valuable Player after registering 78 total tackles and 17 tackles for losses.

What the coach says: “He thinks, when he comes in, he’s going to take somebody’s position—and you want that with your football players. He’s a very physical, aggressive linebacker. He’s a very detailed person.”

• Wesley Williams, 6-0, 275, center from Kilgore, Texas and Kilgore Junior College: The second mid-year transfer for UAM, Williams will be available for spring practice and has two years of eligibility remaining. He was a two-year starter in junior college after earning two all-district selection as a prepster at Kilgore High School.

What the coach says: “He comes from a family of educators and he’s a smart kid. He jumped into our program like he’s been here forever. He’s done a tremendous job, and we’re looking for great things from him at our center position.”

• Trent Willis, 5-10, 175, wide receiver from Ryan High School in Denton, Texas: A two-time, first-team all-district selection, Willis caught 69 passes for 1,007 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior. 

What the coach says: “He has a lot of similarities to another receiver we had here, D.J. Stephens, that was pretty special. Trent has a chance to do a lot of very good things when he has the football in his hands. He’s a return guy as well but he’s one of those guys who can catch a bubble screen and turn it into a big gain or touchdown. He’s got tremendous speed and I think he’s dedicated to becoming a better football player.”

The Advance-Monticellonian

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Monticello, AR 71657

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