By Brad Crawford
Assistant Sports Editor
UNCP announced its 2008 football signing class on Feb. 6 as 23 players signed national letters of intent on National Signing Day to play football collegiately for the Black and Gold.
UNCP’s 23 signees on National Signing Day join five other football players who signed previously with the Braves and enrolled in January in time for the spring semester.
“As a whole, we have a large number,” said UNCP head coach Pete Shinnick. “Last year, our plan was to get big bodies in here that we could develop knowing that they would take longer. “We used a lot of our time and resources on offensive and defensive linemen last year. This year, we wanted to get more athletic and get more speed and we have done that,” Shinnick added.
More than half of UNCP’s 2008 class started at a defensive position at the prep level, as 17 of 28 signees are expected to come in and sure up a Black and Gold defense that allowed 28.8 points per game last season and 41 touchdowns.
Raquan Wooden, a defensive back from Independence High School in Charlotte, N.C., joins the Braves’ secondary as a cover corner, intercepting six passes his senior campaign as a Patriot.
Wooden was also a part of Independence’s nation wide 109-game winning streak, a feat that spanned seven years without a loss. Independence’s streak ended in September 2007 with a loss at Cincinnati Elder.
In total, five defensive backs, eight lineman and four linebackers round out the Braves’ incoming freshmen on defense.
UNCP adds two kickers
The Braves were able to sure up needs in the kicking game with the signings of Taylor Baskett and Cody Conn as UNCP kickers were just 4-of-8 on field goal attempts and 20-28 on extra points attempts in 2007.
Baskett, a 5-foot-11 kicker from Fayetteville, connected on 6-of-11 field goal attempts as a senior, including a 49-yarder in a 18-16 loss to Purnell Swett.
Conn travels to UNCP from Asheboro, N.C., where he punted 25 times as a senior for the Blue Comets with an average of 40.3 yards per punt.
On the offensive side, the Braves added three wide receivers to an already talented wideout core, headlined by Jameel Walker, a 6-foot-2 target from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. Walker is a former Trojan of Pine Forest High School, and was named to the Mid-Southeastern 4-A Conference First Team his senior season.
“All three of the wide receivers we got are very athletic and very fast,” said UNCP head coach Pete Shinnick.
Class of 2008 overall
“We had a little bit more success this year,” Shinnick said. “Going in, I don’t see this as a set number of guys that we wanted to get. We had some need positions, but we really felt good about the guys that accepted our offers.”
“Our second recruitign class went smoother than the first because we knew more about the high schools in the state of North Carolina, we had a bigger staff and were more informed,” said UNCP defensive coordinator Shane Richardson.
“We were more efficient with our time that was spent and who it was spent with. It was easier to identify the players that we liked,” Richardson added.
“We added speed and athleticism. Last year we focused on size on the offensive and defensive lines. This year we want to get more athletic and more speed at the skill positions,” Richardson said.
Too early to tell
“I don’t know if there is a standout player; August will tell us what we need to know,” Richardson said. “It’s good to see their high school film and stats, but until they get into a collegiate setting, that’s when we’ll know what kind of player they will be and how they respond to it.”
Photo Illustration by Brad Crawford