By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
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MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - The Central Michigan football program signed 18 players to National Letters of Intent on Wednesday.
The Chippewas retained almost all of the players who had verbally committed to join the program before the Jan. 22 departure of coach Dan Enos for Arkansas.
Interim head coach Kyle Nystrom and the rest of the coaching staff deserve the credit for that, Associate Vice President/Athletics Director Dave Heeke said.
"I think it shows the strength of our program and the terrific job that our assistant coaches have done to land this class and to bring it to a close today with what's really an outstanding class," Heeke said.
"To get virtually everyone that we had recruited speaks volumes about the effort of these assistant coaches and the strength of Central Michigan University football as a program."
Nystrom spearheaded the effort to close the deal on a class that includes eight players who are ranked among the state's top 50 as determined by the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News. Two others are rated the 52nd and 53rd best prospects in the state.
"It's been a great class," Nystrom said. "Through this transition, all the coaches, they did a great job of keeping all our guys in the saddle for us. We owe them all the gratitude for getting that done.
"It was a little bumpy here and there, but we made it work. Our assistants did a great job."
Sixteen of the signees hail from Michigan with one each from Illinois and Georgia. The Chippewa roster in 2014 comprised more than 70 percent homegrown student-athletes, the largest number among the state's five football-playing Division I universities.
"This class is built with Michigan kids," Nystrom said. "We addressed a number of needs. They're outstanding young men. Good students, good kids, they have good character, and they'll be good players for us here at Central."
Leading the list are defensive linemen Shahid Bellamy and Mike Danna, both of Detroit. Bellamy played at Oak Park High School, Danna at Warren De La Salle, where he set school records with 20 tackles-for-loss and 10 sacks in helping lead the Pilots to the Division 2 state championship last fall.
Danna, who is 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, is rated 15th on the Detroit Free Press Fab 50 and the Detroit News Blue Chip list. Bellamy is 35th on the Blue Chip list, 36th on the Fab 50.
Both fit the mold of the defensive linemen CMU has sought and signed in the recent past. Danna projects as a defensive end who is cut in the mold of current Chippewas Blake Serpa and Joe Ostman. The 6-foot-1, 285-pound Bellamy would appear to have the size and game to play at defensive tackle.
Danna and Bellamy are two of the five defensive players in the class. The others are linebackers Carlos Clark of Belleville and Michael Oliver of Detroit, and defensive back Da'Quaun Jamison of Leesburg, Ga.
Oliver, a product of Cass Tech High School, is 44th on the Free Press Fab 50 and 39th on the News' Blue Chips list. Both are in the 6-foot, 230-pound range and possess all that the coaching staff sought in linebackers: Lower-body power, good instincts and aggression, and leadership.
Jamison made seven interceptions and was credited with 10 pass breakups as a senior at Lee County High School. He made 182 tackles in his final twoyears of high school ball.
The offensive line comprises five players, an unusually large number, but one that will help bolster the troops after the Chippewas lost two starters up front to graduation and will have three seniors who are returning starters heading into the 2015 season.
Deshawn Baker-Williams, a 6-4, 305-pounder out of Westland John Glenn High School, was among the state's top linemen and is rated 20th on the Free Press Fab 50 and 26th on the News Blue Chip list.
Joining Baker-Williams are Steve Eipper of Greenville; Louis Grigoletti of Brookfield, Ill.; Logan Slaughter of Mendon; and Derek Smith of Grand Rapids.
Slaughter, who is 6-3, 280, is ranked 35th by the Free Press, 24th by the News.
"He may be the center, because he's a really smart kid," CMU line coach Butch Berry said. "He's over a 4.0 GPA and for that position you always want a smart guy. He's a very tough kid and he's got really good power."
Grigoletti, who played at Riverside-Brookfield High School in suburban Chicago, is listed at 6-4, 275 and projects as a guard or a center; Eipper is 6-4, 270, and described by Berry as "very athletic;" and Smith, who played at Kenowa Hills High School, is 6-5, 265, and projects as a tackle.
"Great feet, great balance and he's very physical," Barry said.
The class includes two quarterbacks, Jake Johnson of DeWitt and Dakota Kupp of Waterford.
Johnson was rated 30th by the Free Press, while Kupp was rated 53rd by the News.
Johnson threw for 3,945 yards and 52 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions while completing 60 percent of his passes as a three-year starter at DeWitt. He quarterbacked the Panthers to a state runner-up finish in 2013 and a state semifinal berth in 2012. He also rushed for more than 1,300 and 14 TDs in his prep career.
Kupp was a four-year starter at Mott High School, where he amassed a school-record 6,111 career passing yards and 61 touchdowns. The touchdown total is the third most in Oakland County history.
"Both of them have an excellent release, a quick release," offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Morris Watts said. "Whoever has coached them has done a good job with it because it's one of the hardest things to get young men to do - not live with that ball in their hand and then have a long deliberate motion which lets the (defensive back) get a great break on the ball.
"They've both got a good quick delivery. That's an outstanding quality that we like and the fact that it's not something that we have to spend a lot of time when they come in here in the fall working on because they're there in that regard."
Also in the backfield is running Romello Ross, a 5-10, 193-pounder out of Detroit Western who was 16th in the Fab 50 and and 18th on the Blue Chip list. He finished his four-year career with more than 5,000 rushing yards and scored 97 touchdowns.
"He can change direction, drop his weight, accelerate out of cuts," running backs coach Geno Guidugli said. "He shows tremendous ball skills out of the backfield. He comes from a great family, he's a great student, and he has a great passion for the game and he really wants to be successful."
The class includes four pass catchers in tight end Austin Ervin of St. Johns and wideouts Damon Terry of Lansing, Jamil Sabbagh of Dearborn, and Brandon Childress of Baldwin. Bobby Banks of Detroit, who is listed as an athlete, rounds out the class.
Terry, who played at Everett High School for former CMU quarterback Marcelle Carruthers, finished his high school career with 1,515 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Sabbagh was primarily a running back at Fordson High School and was ranked No. 31 on the Blue Chip list and No. 37 on the Fab 50. He finished with 2,000 all-purpose yards and scored 18 touchdowns in 2014.
Ervin is a tight end with good size (6-6, 240) who made 34 receptions for 499 yards and four touchdown during his career in a run-oriented offense at St. Johns High School.
Childress, who is also a standout basketball player, is ranked No. 48 on the News Blue Chip list. He played quarterback at Baldwin, throwing for 1,647 yards and rushing for 1,039 as a senior and accounted for 48 total touchdowns.
Banks, who played at Southfield Christian High School, made 65 tackles including three sacks and forced three fumbles last season and completed his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.
"He's versatile on both sides of the ball," CMU defensive coordinator Joe Tumpkin said. "He's played running back, he's played receiver, he's play defensive back. He's a tremendous athlete who will upgrade out program."