The University of Central Arkansas added 11 new football Bears on the first day of the new early signing period, according to head coach Nathan Brown.
The newcomers include: offensive linemen Alex Bridges, Will Burgess, Dylan Desper and Jacob Ingram; tight end Austin Eldridge; running back Cameron Myers; wide receiver Bennie Smith; defensive tackle Alejandro Ramirez; cornerback Duke Upshaw; punter Taylor Wallace, and long snapper Raleigh Wood.
"We have a good mix of mid-year players and high school signees in this early signing day class," said Brown, who signed his first players as head coach of the Bears. "Each of these kids come from winning programs and have an edge about them that will allow us to keep pushing toward championships.
"We wanted to put an emphasis on the offensive and defensive lines during this recruiting period. We were able to do that, signing big, physical kids that fit the mold, size-wise, to get us to the next level. We were able to add a few skill positions where we were in need of instant help. We wanted to recruit speed in these areas and each kid we were able to sign today has the speed you are looking for.
"Last but not least,we need to sign a snapper and a punter. You don’t realize how important those two positions are until you don’t have one of them. I feel like we got the best two prospects in that area that we could find."
Bridges, 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, comes to UCA from Cisco (Texas) Community College and John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas. "Alex has the size you are looking for on the edge of the offensive line," said Brown. "He could be an instant plug and play guy at one of our tackle positions."
Desper (6-4, 290) played at Jones County Community College and Madison (Miss.) Central High School. "Dylan’s junior college coach said there wasn’t a harder worker on their team than Dylan,’ Brown said. "He adds experience and toughness to our O-line room.
Burgess (6-4, 330) is a high school signee who played at Lake Hamilton High School in Hot Springs. "Will is exactly what you are looking for when you want to get bigger and more physical on the offensive line,’ said Brown. "He has the size and the athletic ability to make our O-line special for years to come.
Ingram is a 6-3, 305 pounder from West Monroe (La.) High School. "Jacob is a very versatile O-lineman. He just got finished playing in the Louisiana all-star game at center and has played three other spots on the O-line. He has the size we are looking for and comes from a winning program," said Brown.
Eldridge (6-3, 240) is a tight end from Plant City (Fla.) High School. "Austin is a special athlete at the tight end position,’ Brown said. "He has in-line blocking experience and also has the ability to catch the football from the tight end spot. He had over 100 yards receiving in the Florida All-Star game he played in a couple of weeks ago."
Myers (6-1, 200) is from Durant High School in Plant City, Fla., and is the younger brother of UCA freshman wide receiver Brandon Myers. "Cameron will be our first early enrolled high school student-athlete I have ever been a part of here at UCA," Brown said. "He will be going through spring ball when he could be going to his high school prom. He led the highest level of football in the state of Florida in rushing this past year. He has a great combination of size and speed."
Smith is a 5-8, 170-pound receiver from Klein Oak High School in Spring, Texas. "Bennie is a great athlete,’ Brown said. "He is one of those guys you can’t tackle in a phone booth. He will remind Bear fans of (former UCA receivers) Jatavious Wilson and Brandon Cox. He has played running back and wide receiver over the past couple years so he has great versatility."
Ramirez (6-2, 300) is an interior defensive lineman fromm Springdale Har-Ber High School. "Alejandro is a great athlete for his size," Brown said. "He is a state champion wrestler and controls the line of scrimmage on the interior of the defensive line. He has great feet for a big guy and his initial pop when the ball is snapped reminds me of a lot of the great ones we have had here over the past few years."
Upshaw is a 6-0, 180-pound cornerback from East Mississippi Community College and Baldwyn (Miss.) High School. "Duke just got named first-team NJCAA All America yesterday," said Brown. "He has the ability to play man coverage and take away a side of the field for an offense. We lost an All-American in senior Tre Smith so we needed instant help at this position and Duke provides that. He is coming off a national championship at East Mississippi so he has the winning pedigree you are looking for."
Wallace (6-1, 200) is a punter from Jones County Community College Jackson (Miss.) Prep High School. "Taylor is one of the best punters we scouted during the off season," Brown said. "He averaged over 42 yards per punt and would put the ball in the air with a lot of hang time. With the graduation of Patrick Ponder we needed immediate help at this position. Taylor’s junior college coach thinks we are getting the best mid-year punter in the country.’
Wood (6-2, 205) is a long snapper from East Mississippi Community College and Grenada (Miss.) High School. "Raleigh comes from a coaching family and has always been around football,’ said Brown. "We had an immediate need at this positon because of the graduation of Austin McIntosh and Raleigh fills that spot. He is coming off a national championship with East Mississippi so he has been to the top. He has good pop with his snaps and is very accurate.’
Brown said his first signing class came together quickly and efficiently.
"I couldn’t be more excited at the way this early signing class developed," he said. "We still have several commits that elected to wait until February to sign. We will have a busy January as a staff hitting the road and continuing to find great players for our program. This is a really good start to where we want to finish in February.’