Newly appointed Rock football coach Shawn Lutz had no trouble attracting high school recruits, signing 29 incoming student-athletes on National Signing day Feb. 3.
The 29-man recruiting class is one of the largest in school history and features athletes from some of the top-tier high school football programs in the area.
“We’re pretty excited about this recruiting class,” Lutz said. “I would think that in my 20 years (with SRU) it’s the largest recruiting class and, at least on paper, it could be one of the best.”
Lutz and his coaching staff signed two quarterbacks, three running backs, five wide receivers, seven offensive linemen, three defensive linemen, five linebackers, three defensive backs and one placekicker/punter.
Over the years, former head coach George Mihalik had made it a point to heavily recruit local talent, which is something Lutz has carried on. Of the 29 signees, 23 are from the western Pa area and another five come from eastern Ohio.
“The number one priority that we have is that we’re going to take care of our backyard. We’re going to recruit that area really hard,” Lutz said. “When I think about the tradition in western Pennsylvania and what people stand for, football is what it’s all about.”
The Rock signed two very accomplished quarterbacks in Augustus Necastro out of Brookfield, Ohio and Nathaniel Musselman from Linganore, Maryland. Necastro was named a first team all-state quarterback and Musselman went undefeated in the regular season in his high school career.
SRU also signed three extremely productive running backs. Braden Fochtman from Berlin Brothersvalley was the leading rusher in all of Pennsylvania high school football and Dontez Rash from Benedictine, Ohio was the leading rusher in all of Ohio. Fochtman rushed for 6,724 yards and 92 touchdowns in his career while Rash totaled 4,092 yards and 45 touchdowns.
“We got the leading rusher in Pennsylvania and the leading rusher in Ohio. (Fochtman) is a guy who’s not real big, but he’s a heck of a running back,” Lutz said. “The guy I’m most impressed with on offense is Dontez Rash. I think he can make the most immediate impact.”
The final running back, Chacar Berry out of Ringgold (who’s brother is current SRU defensive back Alfon Cook), ran for 3,170 yards and 54 touchdowns in his career.
In terms of receivers, Slippery Rock signed five guys, all from Pennsylvania. Malik Mathis from Penn Hills, Henry Litwin from Conneaut Area, Trey Douton out of Charleroi, Ashton Teeter from Plum and Dylan Stapleton out of Indiana (Pa).
Lutz likes Teeter’s combination of size and speed and Stapleton is a guy who he thinks will be able to play tight end for The Rock as well.
“(Teeter) is one of the leading Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) runners in track. So he’s very fast and he’s got that size at 6’3″,” Lutz said. He’s a gem in the class and he’s a guy we’re going to put at outside receiver and will stretch the defense.”
The main area of focus for the Green and White this year was the offensive line as they graduated four of their five starters from last year. In response, Lutz and his staff signed seven big, talented linemen. Mike Arnold out of Montour stands at 6’5″, Brad Shaeffer from West Shamokin is 6’4″, Jake Tecak from Plum is 6’4″, Austin Wayt from Canton Glenoak, Ohio is the shortest linemen at 6’1″, Brandon Zilavy out of Deer Lakes is 6’2″, Amon Youngblood from Woodland Hills, the number four ranked guard in Pennsylvania, is 6’4″ and James Willard, the number 14 ranked tackle in Pennsylvania, is 6’5″.
Lutz thinks that Youngblood and Willard are guys who have a shot at getting some early playing time next year.
“It was incredible that we got (Youngblood). He comes from a great football program. The biggest thing with him is that he’ll need to lose a little weight from 325 pounds to play the up-tempo offense we have,” Lutz said. “(Willard) is a big, strong kid. The thing about him that separates him is he has very good feet. He can play early because he’s in good shape and he has good size too.”
To bulk up the defensive line, SRU signed two defensive ends in Zack Radinick from South Fayette and Josh Bader out of Poland, Ohio and Wilford Clark, a big 6-foot 287-pound defensive tackle from Woodland Hills.
After graduating starting linebackers Mike Grata and Teven Williams Lutz made certain to add talent to the linebacking corps. Chad Kuhn from Kiski Area, Patrick Minenock from New Castle and Santino Birty out of Franklin Regional all played quarterback in high school and will make the transition to defense in college.
Dylan Whiteman from Plum and Tim Vernick (brother of current Rock linebacker Bob Vernick) both played defense in high school and seem to fit the mold of SRU linebackers.
“Can’t go wrong with a Vernick, Bob’s one of the best linebackers in the business,” Lutz said. “Anytime you can get brother combinations I think it’s a pretty cool thing. (Tim) is a good football player too. He’s just hard-nosed, likes to play the game and likes to hit people. Great bloodlines and just a guy who is relentless on defense.”
The team added another converted quarterback in Daron Cooper out of Woodland Hills, who Lutz sees playing safety. Also signing were defensive backs Elijah Jackson from Canton McKinley in Ohio and Cameron Brookins from Steel Valley.
The final signee is honorable mention All-State kicker/punter Jake Chapla from Plum. Chapla was a perfect 55-55 on extra point attempts in high school and has made a career-long 51-yard field goal.
Lutz thinks Chpla will be able to handle both kicking and punting duties for The Rock from day one.
With these 29 recruits, Slippery Rock will hope to carry on the recent run of success that has seen The Rock win back-to-back Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Championships and make three straight trips to the NCAA Division II playoffs.