Big Rapids, Mich. - The Ferris State University football program welcomed 35 talented individuals to the Bulldog Nation on Wednesday (Feb. 5) as head coach Tony Annese and his staff unveiled FSU's 2014 recruiting class on National Signing Day in an afternoon press conference at the Wheeler Pavilion.
The list is highlighted by 27 in-state prep products in addition to six out-of-state signees and a pair of transfers in former Division I student-athletes Kevin Buford (Canton) and Justin Collins (Fairfield, Calif.), who previously played at Iowa and Western Michigan, respectively
"I'm extremely elated and excited about the class we signed," said Annese. "I don't think anyone in Division II outworked our staff and it shows with the quality of kids we've added. Our current players did an incredible job in helping sell our program and we've also developed outstanding relationships with high school coaches in this state, who worked very hard to help us as well.
"Right now, our morale is so high that recruits want to be a part of our family and what we're building at Ferris State," he added.
The 35-member class includes a total of 27 players from inside the state of Michigan along with four from Illinois and one each from Indiana and Florida in addition to Buford, who played prep football within the state at Canton, along with Collins from California.
In all, the Bulldogs added 21 players on the offensive side of the ball with 15 on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage although several members of the class have the ability to play on both sides of the ball and have not necessarily officially been targeted yet at a particular position.
Offensively, the Bulldogs inked eight offensive linemen, five slots/receivers, four running backs, three tight ends and a quarterback. FSU brought in four defensive linemen, six linebackers and five in the secondary.
"I think it's a great class and I've harassed our current freshmen that this class may be even better than a year ago, which was an outstanding group that some called the best in the country in Division II football," Annese said. "Ultimately, we're about building relationships and selling this to the young kids we're recruiting. The result of that is this class, which is absolutely tremeondous."
The out-of-state signees include perhaps the best player from the state of Florida in Class 8A Player of the Year Robert Thomas III, a talented tailback who ran for a state-leading 2,371 yards and 30 TD's in 2013. He's a finalist for Florida's Mr. Football honor and broke a 29-year metro conference record for rushing yards in a campaign.
One of the closest products came from Cadillac where Ferris State added its lone quarterback in all-state standout Jalen Brooks. The dual-threat standout threw for nearly 1,200 yards and ran for almost 1,500 yards as a senior in leading the Vikings to their best finish in school history.
"Winning and being successful have helped us in selling the program," said Annese. "We were at the top of our game at the end of last season. We're building this and we feel good about our talent, but guys aren't satisified with last year and that's great. I feel really good about this class and the guys we've added to that mix today."
The Bulldogs yet again made a significant splash throughout Michigan and the Southeastern corner, where some of the state's top talent from the Detroit area and elsewhere announced their allegiance to Ferris State. For the third year in a row, an emphasis was again placed on covering the state as the Bulldogs hauled in standout student-athletes from parts of Michigan stretching from Saginaw to Muskegon while also hitting locations such as Grand Rapids, Detroit, Dowagiac, Montrose and more.
Nearly every member of this year's class were featured on various lists pegging the state's top prospects in the class of 2014 and at least a dozen of them also received strong Division I recruiting interest, including four who had Division I offers besides the two transfers. For the third year in a row, a focus was also placed on adding players from winning programs as nearly ever one of this year's signees helped their teams to the state playoffs in their final campaigns.
"At the end of the day, people trust us to lead these young people and help them succeed both on and off the field," said Annese. "I'm so excited about the progress we're making in the offseason and adding this great group of student-athletes to our program will be yet another big boost.
"On a scale of one to 10, I'd give us a 9.98. That's how good it is and we feel great about it," he added. "We identified who we wanted and went out and got them. I'd say we got 85% of what we wanted and that's an incredible number for this level based on how competitive it is out there."
Ferris State wrapped up a successful 2013 campaign and the second season under Annese's direction with a 8-3 overall record along with a second-place 8-2 finish in the GLIAC North Division standings last fall.
FSU, which finished the year riding a four-game winning streak, narrowly missed receiving the school's first playoff bid in 17 years. The Bulldogs' eight-win campaign was the school's first since 2006 and only the second in the program's last 16 seasons.
Ferris State' seight league wins in 2013 were also its most since 1996 and the Bulldogs beat rival Grand Valley State for the second consecutive year to hold onto possession of the Anchor-Bone Trophy.