Football: Lane Kiffin’s first recruiting class tops rest of Conference USA

Fifteen freshmen and nine transfers make up Kiffin’s first class at FAU.

FAU+hired+Lane+Kiffin+as+its+new+head+coach+on+Dec.+13%2C+2016.+Brendan+Feeney+%7C+Managing+Editor

FAU hired Lane Kiffin as its new head coach on Dec. 13, 2016. Brendan Feeney | Managing Editor

Brendan Feeney, Managing Editor

Less than two months into his new role as head coach of Florida Atlantic football, Lane Kiffin has already put the rest of Conference USA on notice.

His first recruiting class at Florida Atlantic has been tabbed as the conference’s best by both Rivals and 247Sports — two of the top media outlets which focus on college recruiting.

“A lot of guys we just had to kind of catch up with and in recruiting that’s what got hit on a lot,” Kiffin said. “‘Well we don’t really know you guys that well, these guys have recruited us for two years at these other places and we just met you a week ago.’ We battled that a lot but I think we won a lot of those battles because the families, the players saw our staff and our players and the environment we’re creating.”

The Owls have inked 24 players so far, 15 of which received a three-star ranking out of a possible five. No team in Conference USA signed a four or five star-caliber freshman and only one school, UTEP, failed to pick up a three star.

Kiffin was able to sway some recruits away from bigger and more prestigious programs, such as safety Ahman Ross as well as wide receivers Jordan Merrell and DeAndre McNeal, who Kiffin recruited at Alabama.

“DeAndre was a tough get,” Kiffin said. “He had been in our camp at Alabama and I had worked with him there, [I] had a plan for him there and we didn’t end up signing him for whatever reason. He has always been a guy that I always had a plan for how we would play him, I always wanted him.”

McNeal’s decision came down between FAU and UCLA, and Ross chose the Owls over offers from University of Miami and Florida State University. Merrell received offers from the Universities of Michigan and Louisville — two schools that spent considerable time last season ranked among the country’s top 10 teams.

The most notable of Kiffin’s crop is junior college quarterback De’Andre Johnson. Johnson, who enrolled at FAU in January, spent his past couple of years at East Mississippi Community College after originally enrolling at Florida State in January 2015.

He never suited up for the Seminoles however, as he was caught on camera punching a woman in the face, whom his lawyer later claimed yelled “racial epithets” toward him. ESPN and Rivals each gave Johnson four stars, while 247Sports and Scout listed him as a three-star quarterback.

“A very unusual situation, I signed [Johnson] and didn’t know him,” Kiffin said. “I’ve had a chance to be around him a little bit and also seen him around our recruits … very humble kid, I also got to go to his junior college … the way they talked about him, he’s a really special kid that had a really bad decision that he made and he has really learned from that and is moving forward. I’m excited that he was given a second opportunity.”

Fellow community college recruit D’Anfernee McGriff also received four stars from ESPN and Rivals, but was left unranked by the other two.

In total, the Owls picked up 15 freshman, two sophomores and seven juniors. Thirteen of the recruits call Florida home, two hail from Kiffin’s old stomping ground, Alabama, as well as California, Texas and Georgia.

The rest come from Arizona, Maryland and Ohio.

2017 Class:

*Ernest Bagner – Defensive end from Paramount, California

*Tim Bonner – Defensive end from Demopolis, Alabama

*Jovon Burriss – Defensive back from Germantown, Maryland

BJ Etienne – Offensive lineman from Greenacres, Florida

Zyon Gilbert – Defensive back from Montgomery, Alabama

Qu’ran Hafiz – Defensive back from Jacksonville, Florida

Robert Hawkins – Offensive lineman from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Chase Hooper – Defensive tackle from Alpharetta, Georgia

Denzel Houston – Athlete from Daytona, Florida

*De’Andre Johnson – Quarterback from Jacksonville, Florida

Chase Lasater – Athlete from Orange Park, Florida

Akileis Leroy – Linebacker from Albany Georgia

*Carson Lydon – Linebacker from Queen Creek, Arizona

*D’Anfernee McGriff – Athlete from Tallahassee, Florida

*DeAndre McNeal – Wide receiver from Mesquite, Texas

Jordan Merrell – Wide receiver from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Diashun Moss – Defensive back from Coral Springs, Florida

*Joey Palmer – Offensive lineman from Thornville, Ohio

Logan Peterson – Tight end from Aledo, Texas

Isaac Readon – Linebacker from Miami, Florida

Ahman Ross – Safety from Jacksonville, Florida

Tyrek Tisdale – Athlete from Orlando, Florida

*Rodney Washington – Safety from Oakland, California

Willie Wright – Wide receiver from Jacksonville, Florida

*Denotes transfers

Brendan Feeney is the managing editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected]gmail.com or tweet him @feeney42.