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February 2, 2012

COLUMN: This Time, It's Legit

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Really, it's a shame that WKU had only 13 scholarships for the 2012 class.

For the first time in the Willie Taggart era, this class was legitimately the top class.
That's no disrespect to the past two classes. Both the 2010 and 2011 classes, ranked as the top classes in the Sun Belt Conference each year, were stocked full of quality players.

Think of how the players who have come out of each class have fared so far.

From the 2010 class, linebacker Andrew Jackson has turned out to be a terror on defense for opposing offenses. He sat out the 2010 season as an academic redshirt, but after becoming eligible last fall, he was the anchor of a completely rebuilt defense.

Then there's Kadeem Jones, who provided a running lane or two for Bobby Rainey this past season. Rainey didn't need much help, but Jones helped keep at least a few tacklers off the all-American running back.

Others, like linebacker Xavius Boyd, offensive lineman Cameron Clemmons and quarterback Brandon Doughty, have shown glimpses of what lies ahead.

From the 2011 class, there's John Evans, who electrified as a returner, with a kick return for a touchdown and a burst of speed that left trails of black smoke.

Wide receiver Boe Brand and tight end Mitchell Henry were also big contributors on offense last season.

But there was always some explaining to do with the past two classes themselves.

I can't even keep track of how many times I've been asked, 'What makes this class the best in the conference?'

I'd have an answer, as I was always defending Rivals.com's rankings, but I still had doubts myself.

With the 2012 class, there's little doubt.

The Toppers certainly achieved quality this year, albeit not quantity.

That might be the only thing keeping WKU from the top class in the conference for a third straight year. And that's through no fault of WKU. The 2011 senior class was just smaller.

This year's class saw seven three-star signees, including the highest rated signee WKU has had in the Rivals era, three-star defensive tackle Tyrone Pearson, who along with being rated the No. 5 player in Kentucky and No. 36 defensive tackle in the country, is rated as a 5.7 three-star. That's borderline four-star.

WKU has never had a player rated at 5.7.

Then there's three-star running back Anthony Wales, the No. 6 player in Kentucky and the No. 14 all-purpose back in the country. Not to mention, Wales is third all-time in the state for most rushing yards in a high school career.

Back on defense, three-star Palmetto (Fla.) linebacker Daqual Randall is ranked as the No. 32 inside linebacker in the country.

But three-star wide receiver Austin Aikens, though he doesn't have rankings to go with his stars, might be the most valuable of the additions. His lightning-quick speed, 6-foot height and 42-inch vertical leap give WKU the receiver it desperately needs.

Of the additions, he could have the biggest impact off the bat.

Then, WKU could have the top recruiter in the conference for the second straight year. Assistant coach Raymond Woodie reeled in seven signees, five of them three-stars, in Aikens, Randall, defensive end Calvin Washington, defensive back Brett Harrington, defensive tackle Devante Terrell, sleeper running back Leon Allen and offensive lineman Forrest Lamp.

Make no mistake, this is a talented group. The addition of players like in 2012 should give Topper fans plenty of hope for big things to come, including improving on last season's 7-5 mark.

This year happened to come when Arkansas State signed an impressive class itself, earning itself the top class in the conference.

But look at the quality.

WKU is the victim of a numbers game this year. With just 13 signees, the lowest of the nine Sun Belt members, The Toppers are still the second-highest rated class.

WKU's 2012 signees turned down an impressive list of schools. Randall and Wales decommitted from Louisville. Pearson decommitted from Kentucky. Aikens turned down Missouri, Cincinnati and others to sign with the Toppers.

It won't be long until WKU is pulling signees away from even bigger programs, which means some four-star signees along the way. The Toppers are already getting former four-star transfers, in defensive back Jonathan Dowling and quarterback DaMarcus Smith.

If you've been waiting for a legitimate signing class, this is it, because this class has the players that a No. 1 recruiting class would have.


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