@GWUFootball Announces 20-Man Recruiting Class On 2017 National Signing Day

Tim Cowie Photo  |  GWUPhotos.com
Tim Cowie Photo | GWUPhotos.com

BOILING SPRINGS – Gardner-Webb football announced a 20-man recruiting class on Wednesday morning, as the Runnin' Bulldogs celebrated National Signing Day with an impressive haul.

Gardner-Webb's 2017 class includes seven standouts who earned All-State honors during their career and two who played in the most recent Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas for the victorious North Carolina squad.

All but one of the signees hails from either North Carolina (6), Georgia (6), Tennessee (3); South Carolina (2); Alabama (1) or Florida (1) – states squarely in Gardner-Webb's targeted wheelhouse in the football-rich southeast.

"We have made a point to concentrate on our home state – and states nearby – which happen to be some of the most impressive states in producing football talent," said Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray. "That approach worked very well for us again this recruiting cycle. Our staff did a fine job of early identification and grew relationships that produced a class we feel will help us accomplish our goal of winning a Big South Conference championship."

Two of the signees enrolled at Gardner-Webb in January and will compete for spots during spring practice. Interior offensive lineman Brandon Leahey (6-3, 295, R-So.) transferred to GWU from FBS Eastern Michigan and defensive back R.J. Walker (6-0, 175, Fr.) played at national powerhouse Buford (Ga.) High. Leahey played high school football at Chaparral High in Parker, Colo.

The Runnin' Bulldogs will begin spring practice on Friday, February 3 – getting a very early start on preparation for what should be an exciting 2017 season.

Leahey is part of that seven-man offensive line group, which also includes Shelby (N.C.) High's Darius Clark (6-2, 280), Northview (Tenn.) Academy's Cliff Cole (6-3, 275), Allatoona (Ga.) High's Carter Francis (6-2, 285), Roswell (Ga.) High's Jack Nichols (6-3, 290), Buford (Ga.) High's Garrett Scoggins (6-1, 270) and South View (N.C.) High's David Wilson (6-3, 315).

Clark, Francis and Scoggins each earned postseason All-State honors following the 2016 season, while Cole was a preseason All-State selection in Tennessee.

Clark, Francis and Scoggins also won state titles on the high school level, with Gardner-Webb's 20-man class combining to win 19 state titles.

"These young men succeeded in high school programs that are accustomed to winning football games, and that is definitely a trait we are interested in adding to our program here at Gardner-Webb," McCray added. "In addition to the many state championship trophies hoisted by this group, several were important pieces on nationally-ranked teams during their careers."

Gardner-Webb closed the 2016 season in strong fashion, finishing the month of November undefeated for the first time since 2002. The Runnin' Bulldogs are expected to return 17 starters on offense and defense for the 2017 season, which begins on Saturday, September 2 at home vs. in-state foe North Carolina A&T (6:00 pm).

2017 Recruiting Class | February 1, 2017
Darius Clark * 6-2 * 280 * OL * Shelby, N.C. / Shelby HS
Kyndall Clark * 6-2 * 225 * LB * Oak Ridge, Tenn. / Oak Ridge HS
Cliff Cole * 6-3 * 275 * OL * Kodak, Tenn. / Northview Academy
Carter Francis * 6-2 * 285 * OL * Acworth, Ga. / Allatoona HS
Deonte' Grier * 5-11 * 170 * CB * Charlotte, N.C. / Mallard Creek HS
Brandon Leahey * 6-3 * 295 * OL * Parker, Colo. / Eastern Michigan
AJ Moses * 6-0 * 205 * RB * Griffin, Ga. / Spalding HS
Jaylen Myers * 6-2 * 180 * QB * Alcoa, Tenn. / Alcoa HS
Jack Nichols * 6-3 * 290 * OL * Roswell, Ga. / Roswell HS
Jacob Perry * 6-2 * 215 * TE * Acworth, Ga. / Allatoona HS
Ethan Piercy * 6-1 * 185 * WR * Fort Mill, S.C. / Fort Mill HS
Darien Reynolds * 6-0 * 205 * LB * Charlotte, N.C. / Vance HS
Garrett Scoggins * 6-1 * 270 * OL * Buford, Ga. / Buford HS
John Singleton * 6-5 * 215 * DE * Apex, N.C. / Middle Creek HS
Jordan Smith * 6-1 * 200 * QB * Fruit Cove, Fla. / Bartram Trail HS
Shai Thomas * 6-2 * 230 * LB * Anderson, S.C. / T.L. Hanna HS
Donnie Thompson * 6-3 * 290 * DL * Lincolnton, N.C. / Lincolnton HS
R.J. Walker * 6-0 * 175 * DB * Buford, Ga. / Buford HS
Noah Wilder * 6-1 * 215 * LB * Bessemer, Ala. / Bessemer Academy
David Wilson * 6-3 * 315 * OL * Hope Mills, N.C. / South View HS

Darius Clark * 6-2 * 280 * OL * Shelby, N.C. / Shelby HS
Played at state power Shelby (N.C.) High under Coach Lance Ware … Named 2016 Class 2A All-State by NCPreps.com after an outstanding senior season … A first-team All-County choice by the Shelby Star … Finished last three seasons of his career with a 48-3 record and three consecutive state titles … Led team to a 16-0 mark and the Class 2AA State Championship … Top blocker on a sturdy offensive line that paved the way for nearly 18,000 yards of total offense in three seasons … Cleared a path for 2,000+ yards and 31 rushing touchdowns … Also blocked for an offensive unit that produced more than 5,000 yards of total offense on the season and 41.8 points per game … Helped Golden Lions rush for 2,254 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2015 en route to a 15-1 record and a State Championship … Key performer for an offense that piled up 7,348 yards and 39.2 points per game (96 offensive touchdowns) … Protected a 4,000-yard passer and cleared a path for a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers … Helped Golden Lions to a 16-2 mark and the Class 2AA State Championship as a sophomore in 2014 … Offense produced 2,648 yards on the ground and 43 rushing touchdowns … Also posted 5,508 yards of total offense and 30.6 points per game … Chose Gardner-Webb over North Carolina Central.

Kyndall Clark * 6-2 * 225 * OLB * Oak Ridge, Tenn. / Oak Ridge HS
Played at Oak Ridge (Tenn.) High under Coach Joe Gaddis … A two-time All-Region 3-5A selection … Earned first-team Class 5A All-State honors from the Tennessee Sports Writers Association (TSWA) in 2016 … An All-Area selection by the Knoxville News-Sentinel … Helped lead Wildcats to a 9-3 mark and a regional championship in final campaign … Finished 2016 season with 103 total tackles, two interceptions, four fumble recoveries, three blocked punts and six forced fumbles … Scored two defensive touchdowns ... Had 15 hits, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles in a win over Dobys-Bennett (Tenn.) High … Recovered one fumble for a touchdown … Also an All-Region selection as a junior … Led team in tackles, interceptions, fumble recoveries and forced fumbles in 2015 … Rated as one of the Knoxville area's top linebacker prospects entering the 2016 season ... Chose Gardner-Webb over ETSU and Tennessee Tech.

Cliff Cole * 6-3 * 285 * OL * Kodak, Tenn. / Northview Academy
Played at Northview (Tenn.) Academy under Coach Todd Loveday … Athletic two-way lineman who covers the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds … Two-time All-County and All-Region choice ... A preseason Class 3A All-State selection heading into the 2016 season by Murphy Fair's Tennessee High School Football preview … Earned 2016 first-team All-County honors from the Sevierville Mountain Press … Named 2016 Region 1-3A Lineman of the Year … Finished with 37 knockdown blocks on offense in 2016 ... Collected 62 total tackles, 21.0 tackles for loss and three sacks on defense ... Enjoyed a stellar junior season in 2015 … Named 2015 Region 1-3A Defensive Player of the Year … Finished the season defensively with 79 total tackles, 25.0 tackles for loss and 10.0 quarterback sacks … 2015 was the first season of football at Northview Academy ... Also considered Tennessee Tech, Furman, Western Carolina and Liberty.

Carter Francis * 6-2 * 285 * OL * Kennesaw, Ga. / Allatoona HS
Played at Allatoona (Ga.) High under Coach Gary Varner … Three-year starter ... Started 35 consecutive games at center ... A two-time All-Region selection … Two-time All-County choice ... A second-team Class 6A All-State selection by the Georgia Sportswriters Association in 2016 … Earned first-team All-County honors from the Marietta Daily Journal as a senior … Also a first-team All-Area selection by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2016 … A first-team All-Region 6-AAAAAA selection in 2016 … Blocked well for an offense that averaged 216.9 yards per game on the ground and scored 34 touchdowns rushing as a senior in 2016 … Finished with 72 pancake blocks and graded out at 84 percent in 2016 ... A second-team All-County selection at center in 2015 … Earned first-team All-Region 5-AAAAA honors as a junior … Helped Bucs to a 14-1 record and the Class 5A State Championship … Collected 84 pancake blocks ... Cleared a path for 4,078 rushing yards (271.9 yards per game) and 58 touchdowns on the ground … Top blocker for an attack that averaged 6.9 yards per rush and 37.3 points per game … Chose Gardner-Webb over Southern (La.), Florida A&M, Charleston Southern, Kennesaw State, The Citadel and Chattanooga.

Deonte' Grier * 5-11 * 170 * CB * Charlotte, N.C. / Mallard Creek HS
Played at state power Mallard Creek (N.C.) High under Coach Mike Palmieri … A second-team All-Observer selection at corner by the Charlotte Observer … A first-team All-MECKA 7 Conference selection as a senior … Helped Mavericks to a 9-3 record in 2016 … Had 30 total tackles (20 solo) … Picked off four passes and recovered three fumbles … Returned two interceptions for touchdowns … Broke up 23 passes … Also saw time at quarterback as a senior … Helped team to a 14-2 record and the Class 4AA State Championship as a junior … Recorded one interception and 11 pass break ups … Returned a fumble 30 yards for a touchdown … Former guard on the basketball court for Mallard Creek … Is the younger brother of NC State receiver Vernon Grier.

Brandon Leahey * 6-3 * 290 * OL * Parker, Colo. / Chaparral HS / Eastern Michigan
Enrolled at Gardner-Webb in January after transferring from FBS Eastern Michigan … Will participate in Spring Practice. 2016 at Eastern Michigan: Reserve offensive lineman for the Eagles … Part of a team that finished with a 7-6 record and a berth in the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl … Winning record was program's first since 1996 … Saw action in one game. 2015 at Eastern Michigan: Redshirted. High School: Played at Chaparral (Colo.) High in the south suburbs of Denver under Coach Rodney Dobbs … A 2014 Offense-Defense All-America selection as a senior … Rated as a five-star prospect by Tom Lemmings Prep Football Report … Rated as the No. 31 prospect in the Class of 2015 in Colorado by the Colorado Prep Report … A first-team All-South Metro selection by the Englewood Herald as a senior … A two-time All-League selection … Three-year starter … Recruited in high school by Eastern Michigan, Utah State, Kansas State and Colorado State.

AJ Moses * 6-0 * 205 * RB * Griffin, Ga. / Spalding HS
Played at Spalding (Ga.) High under Coach Nick Davis … Runs the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds … A three-time All-Region 2-AAAA choice at running back … Ran for 2,979 yards and 42 touchdowns combined over final three prep seasons … Selected to play in the Georgia Southwest All-Star Game … Enjoyed a strong senior season, carrying 162 times for 1,169 yards and 17 touchdowns (7.2 yards per carry) … A second-team All-Region 2-AAAA selection … Had five 100-yard games … Had a season-high 210 yards on 15 carries vs. Ridgeland (Ga.) High … Caught 15 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns out of the backfield … Had a 62-yard touchdown catch vs. Upson-Lee (Ga.) High … An All-Southern Crescent Team selection as a junior in 2015 … Earned All-Region 2-AAAA honors as a junior after rushing for 726 yards and 12 touchdowns on 103 carries (7.0 yards per rush) … Rushed for 1,084 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2014 … Also considered Eastern Kentucky and Chattanooga.

Jaylen Myers * 6-2 * 180 * QB * Alcoa, Tenn. / Alcoa HS
Played at Alcoa (Tenn.) High under Coach Gary Rankin … Runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds … Earned Class 3A All-State honors from the Tennessee Sports Writers Association (TSWA) following senior season … An All-Area selection by the Knoxville News-Sentinel … Led Tornadoes to a 14-1 record and the Tennessee Class 3A state title, the 15th in program history and second in a row … Completed 69-of-120 passes for 1,123 yards and 10 touchdowns … Carried 106 times for 756 yards and 14 touchdowns … Named MVP of the 2015 State Championship Game as a junior … Passed for 119 yards on 9-of-15 passing and ran for 112 yards on 12 carries in that 20-0 win over Christ Presbyterian Academy … Finished season by completing 53-of-93 passes for 783 yards and 11 touchdowns … Did not throw an interception … Also a part of Alcoa's 2013 State Championship squad ... Chose Gardner-Webb over East Tennessee State, Kennesaw State, Jackson State and Austin Peay.

Jack Nichols * 6-3 * 290 * OL * Roswell, Ga. / Roswell HS
Played at Roswell (Ga.) High under Coach John Ford … Rated as a two-star prospect by Rivals.com … A first-team All-Area selection by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution … Helped team to a 15-1 record, a No. 12 national ranking and a runner-up finish in the Class 7A State Championship Game … Dropped a 23-20 overtime decision to No. 4 nationally-ranked Grayson (Ga.) High in title bout … Cleared a path for an offensive group that rushed for 3,046 yards and 30 touchdowns … Offense produced 5,709 yards of total offense and 33.2 points per game against top competition … Helped Hornets to a 14-1 record, No. 22 national ranking and a runner-up finish in the 2015 Class 7A State Championship as a junior … Earned All-Region honors as a junior … Chose Gardner-Webb over Campbell … Also considered Stetson, Yale, Davidson and Columbia.

Jacob Perry * 6-2 * 215 * TE * Acworth, Ga. / Allatoona HS
Played at Allatoona (Ga.) High under Coach Gary Varner … Earned first-team All-Region 6-AAAAAA honors as a senior … Caught 12 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns at tight end in a run-heavy offensive attack … Key blocker for a unit that averaged 216.9 yards per game on the ground and scored 34 rushing touchdowns … Played on a Bucs' team that finished with a 14-1 record and won the Class 5A State Championship as a junior in 2015 … Part of an offensive unit that averaged 271.9 yards per game on the ground and 58 touchdowns … Chose Gardner-Webb over VMI and Morehead State.

Ethan Piercy * 6-1 * 185 * WR * Fort Mill, S.C. / Fort Mill HS
Played at Fort Mill (S.C.) High under Coach Ed Susi … Runs the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds … Selected to play in the Blue-Gray All-America Game in Jacksonville, Fla., following senior season … Caught 17 passes for 321 yards and five touchdowns in 2016 as part of a run-oriented offense … Had four catches for a season-best 103 yards and a score vs. Nation Ford (S.C.) High … Led team in touchdowns, receiving yardage and yards per catch … Caught 10 passes for 109 yards as a junior in 2015.

Darien Reynolds * 6-0 * 205 * LB * Charlotte, N.C. / Vance HS
Played at Vance (N.C.) High under Coach Aaron Brand … Dynamic defensive standout … Four-year starter … Played in the 2016 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas … Earned the Shrine Bowl's 2016 Spark Plug Award … A first-team All-MECKA 7 Conference selection in 2016 … Played six different positions on defense, ranging from middle linebacker to safety … Finished senior year with 109 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and 10 pass break ups … Also forced three fumbles … Had three interception returns for touchdowns as a senior … Earned first-team All-Conference honors as a junior in 2015 … Had 133 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks as a junior … Broke up two passes and had an 82-yard interception return for a score … Forced four fumbles and recovered three … Led Cougars to a 13-2 record in 2015.

Garrett Scoggins * 6-1 * 270 * OL * Buford, Ga. / Buford HS
Played at national power Buford (Ga.) High under Coach Jess Simpson … Standout interior led Wolves to a 13-2 mark in 2016 … Did not allow a sack in four seasons of prep football ... Earned 2016 second-team Class 4A All-State honors from the Georgia Sportswriters Association … A first-team All-Area choice by the Gainesville Times … Earned third-team All-County accolades from the Gwinnett Daily Post … September 2016 Gwinnett Touchdown Club Player of the Month ... Earned 2016 Gwinnett County Touchdown Club Kevin Maloof Team First Award ... Graded out at 91 percent on the season … Recorded an impressive 102 knockdown blocks in 2016 … Caught a touchdown pass vs. Flowery Branch (Ga.) High … Helped Wolves to a 13-2 mark as a junior in 2015 … Chose Gardner-Webb over Jacksonville.

John Singleton * 6-5 * 215 * DE * Apex, N.C. / Middle Creek HS
Played at Middle Creek (N.C.) High under Coach Randy Ragland … Rangy, athletic end prospect …Helped Mustangs to a 14-1 record in 2016 … Selected to play in the 2016 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas … Had three tackles, a tackle for loss and an interception in a 17-10 win for the N.C. squad … Named Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 at outside linebacker … Finished senior season with 70 total tackles (44 solo), 17.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks … Blocked three punts, returned two interceptions for touchdowns, forced and recovered two fumbles … Also had a fumble return for a score … Chose Gardner-Webb over VMI.

Jordan Smith * 6-1 * 200 * QB * Fruit Cove, Fla. / Bartram Trail HS
Played at Bartram Trail (Fla.) High under Coach Darrell Sutherland … Earned honorable mention All-County honors at quarterback from the St. Augustine Record for the second season in a row … Led team to an 8-5 mark as a senior as part of a three-man rotation at quarterback … Split time with two signal callers ranked among the top-30 nationally in the junior class … Finished career with 3,249 passing yards and 30 touchdowns in three seasons … Rushed for 398 yards and six more scores in three seasons … Caught three passes for 40 yards in his career … Passed for 709 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior … Threw only one interception in 10 games … Ran for 119 yards and one score in 2016 … Named honorable mention All-First Coast by the Jacksonville Times-Union as a junior in 2015 … Also earned honorable mention All-County honors at quarterback as a junior from the St. Augustine Record … Passed for a career-high 1,715 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior in 2015 … Led team to a 9-4 record and the regional finals … Chose Gardner-Webb over Florida A&M … Also recruited by South Alabama.

Shai Thomas * 6-2 * 230 * LB * Anderson, S.C. / T.L. Hanna HS
Played at T.L. Hanna (S.C.) High under Coach Bruce Ollis … Runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds … A two-time All-Region I-AAAAA selection … A second-team All-Area selection by the Anderson Independent-Mail in 2016 … Finished senior season with 46 total tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss, three sacks, two quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles … Had 101 total tackles, seven tackles for loss and two forced fumbles as a junior … Also recruited by Georgia State, Troy and The Citadel.

Donnie Thompson * 6-3 * 290 * DL * Lincolnton, N.C. / Lincolnton HS
Played senior season at Lincolnton (N.C.) High under Coach Ledford Gibson … Runs the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds … A second-team All-Area selection by the Gaston Gazette … Starred on the defensive and offensive line for the Wolves … Led team to a 13-2 record and the state semifinals … Blocked well for an offense that produced 3,518 yards on the ground and 44 rushing touchdowns … Wolves' offense averaged a sizzling 481.2 yards per game of total offense and 47.8 points per game … Finished with 75 total tackles, 26.0 tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks on the defensive line … Batted down a pass and blocked a field goal … Recovered three fumbles and recorded 21 return yards … Forced two fumbles … Played junior season at North Lincoln (N.C.) High, seeing action on the defensive line and at fullback … Had 69 carries for 429 yards and four touchdowns at fullback … Also had 56 tackles on defense … Had 19 carries for 110 yards vs. East Lincoln (N.C.) High … Carried 16 times for 108 yards vs. Statesville (N.C.) High … Scored on four two-point conversion runs … Blocked a field goal on defense.

R.J. Walker * 6-0 * 175 * DB * Buford, Ga. / Buford HS
Enrolled at Gardner-Webb in January and will participate in Spring Practice … Played at national power Buford (Ga.) High under Coach Jess Simpson … A first-team All-Region 8-AAAA selection in the secondary in final prep season … Started on both sides of the football as a senior in 2015 … Helped Wolves to a 13-2 record and a runner-up finish in the Class 4A title game … Finished season with 52 total tackles, two interceptions and seven pass break ups … Had a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Noah Wilder * 6-1 * 215 * LB * Bessemer, Ala. / Bessemer Academy
Played at Bessemer (Ala.) Academy under Coach Josh Wright … A three-time AISA All-State selection by the Alabama Sportswriters Association (ASWA) … Played in the Alabama Senior All-Star Game at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. ... Finished four-year career with 552 total tackles (11.5 per game) … Had 315 solo stops and 45.0 tackles for loss during his career … Led Rebels to a 13-1 record and the Class 3A AISA State Championship as a senior … Part of a team that posted a combined 38-2 record with two consecutive state titles from 2014-2016 … Posted 159 total hits (104 solo) with 17.0 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks as a senior … Had a season-best 20 hits vs. Autauga (Ala.) Academy … Made at least 10 stops in nine different games … Broke up three passes, blocked two kicks and intercepted a pass … Also forced and recovered one fumble … A first-team AISA All-State selection in 2015 at linebacker … Earned honorable mention All-Metro honors from the Birmingham News as a junior … Helped Rebels to a 13-0 mark and the AISA Class 3A State Championship … Finished the 2015 season with 144 total tackles (104 solo), 12.0 tackles for loss and a sack … Had a school-record 24 stops vs. Oak Forest (Ala.) Academy … Posted seven games with at least 10 tackles … Earned first-team AISA All-State honors as a sophomore in 2014 … Had 145 total tackles (107 solo), 16.0 tackles for loss and two sacks as a sophomore in first season at Bessemer Academy … Played freshman season at West Blocton (Ala.) High … Led team with 104 total stops that season … Chose Gardner-Webb over East Tennessee State.

David Wilson * 6-3 * 315 * OL * Hope Mills, N.C. / South View HS
Played at South View (N.C.) High under Coach Rodney Brewington … Four-year starter ... Runs the 40-yard dash in an agile 5.0 seconds … An All-Conference selection as a senior … Starred at guard for the Tigers … Finished season with 50 pancake blocks ... Graded out at 82 percent for the season ... A key blocker for an offense that produced 2,505 yards on the ground (208.8 per game) and 28 rushing touchdowns … Earned honorable mention All-Conference honors as a junior ... Blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in both 2016 and 2014 … Chose Gardner-Webb over Charleston Southern and North Carolina A&T.

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