Wednesday had to be the quietest National Signing Day of Lance Leipold’s career.
The UB football coach announced only two signees to his program, an offensive lineman and a safety. But the low-stress day was a welcome change to the once-hectic event, which was made calmer thanks to the NCAA’s new early signing period just before Christmas.
Leipold wasn’t hit with surprise de-committals this week. He wasn’t left scrambling. He filled the final two scholarship spots he has for the time being, while the rest of the class was already signed and delivered.
“From our standpoint, and I think many of us at the Group of Five-level schools (Division I schools outside of the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences), we see this as a benefit because we’ve been able to hold on to our guys that committed,” Leipold said. “There’s been less losing of guys. A couple years back we lost five guys in the last six days or so in recruiting to Big Ten schools, we lost a couple last year, and the thing is it didn’t give you a lot of chance to go back and go down your list in a short period of time and get that person on campus and whatnot. So, so far, so good. It continues to evolve. I’m sure there are some kinks to work out.”
The players UB added Wednesday were Gabe Wallace, a 6-foot-6, 315-pound offensive lineman from British Columbia that the Bulls lured away from the Canadian national rugby program, and Joey Banks, a 5-10, 205-pound safety transfer who brings experience to a defensive backfield that is graduating both starting safeties. They joined the 14 players UB signed in December.
“Our class was unique based on the amount of mid-year enrollees we brought in,” Leipold said. “Four of these players were high school graduates a year ago and waited to come into school in January. So a lot of our legwork was in place and we had that ready to go. Next year it could be a little bit different for us, but for the first time around, with the amount of scholarships we had to give at this time, it worked out to our liking.”
Leipold believes coaches around the country had a similar experience as him, locking up nearly all of their recruits in December.
“I think what was surprising at our national convention this year, Todd Berry, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, said that 98 percent of the Power Five schools have signed their classes … (and) 91 percent of the FBS programs as a whole signed their guys. So there weren’t a lot of guys to be signed today, per se, and then it kind of trickles down," Leipold said. "I think what it does is, the recruiting game is sped up to begin with, and I think it’s made everyone kind of look at their choices and stay with what they first decided.”
The grading and ranking of recruiting classes is a competitive sport in and of itself among fans of teams in power conferences. National grading sites 247Sports and Rivals had the Bulls’ class ranked at the bottom of the MAC entering Wednesday, but Leipold said experience has taught him not to get invested in the rankings.
“I think it adds another excitement and things like that,” he said. “There’s a lot of things I’ve learned in 30 years of coaching, and that is, there’s a lot of reasons why people get rated at a certain time. It’s based on the traffic they had or areas of competition. But I think every coach across the country has to look at it as they have to address their needs. For us, I look at this is the best year we’ve had in the state of New York since I’ve been here. ... Many times in these rankings – like, our ‘grayshirted’ players aren’t even going to be part of that probably because they were rated in last year’s class. Canadian players are never really rated. So where we’re going to rank in that I don’t really pay a lot of attention to. It’s whether or not we made our football team better today, as well as in December, and I think we’ve done so.”
Other issues Leipold touched on Wednesday:
-- If the early period helps schools in tougher climates because they can show recruits their campus during better weather: “What appears as an advantage I think is probably an equalizer, that some of the northern schools will be able to show a little bit more of their climates in different lights, their campuses in different lights than December and January. But at the same time I think we still have to look at, you’re only allowed ‘X’ amount of official visits. And when is going to be the best time for us to utilize those – especially with players from distance ¬– is something we’re going to continue to discuss as a staff.”
-- On Wallace: “Gabe Wallace is probably the largest human being in our class this year. He is a big, big man. Very talented, also was a rugby player, was sought after by the Canadian national rugby team as well, so it shows his athleticism. … To get him signed now is a huge get in more ways than one, because he might be, if he was a guy in the states, we felt he might be a really tough get for us.”
-- On Banks: “A physical, athletic safety that we wanted to add. Joey’s here in school right now. Losing our two starting safeties last year – Kobe Green’s about the only other safety that played last year, (Jeremiah Dadeboe) a little more the year before, battled some injuries – … so we were looking for a little more experience, a guy who has some games past high school that could add some competition to this group and some experience, and Joey fills that need.”