The Eastern Kentucky University football program got an early start on putting together a third straight top-25 rated recruiting class with 12 high school players and a junior college transfer signing National Letters of Intent (NLI) during the early signing period, Head Coach Mark Elder announced today.
This early signing period for NCAA Division I football is new this year. Previously prospective student-athletes signed with their school of choice on the first Wednesday of February only. The February signing period still remains.
“We signed a group of 13 guys that we are very excited about,” said Elder. “We added a lot on the offensive side of the ball with four big, physical offensive linemen and two tight ends. On the defensive side we focused on defensive backs and signed three that will be able to come in and compete for playing time from the beginning.”
The group of new Colonels includes four players that have already received all-state honors in their respective home states and one Mr. Football. The early group includes four offensive lineman, three defensive backs, two tight ends, one wide receiver, one quarterback, one punter and one defensive lineman.
The four that have earned all-state recognition thus far are Drew Hart (OL), Parker McKinney (QB), D.J. Mitchell (DB) and Zaire Porter (TE). McKinney was also chosen as the Tennessee Class 1A Mr. Football.
Seven states are represented among the group, including three each from Georgia and Tennessee, two from Ohio, and one each from Alabama, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. The group of early signees also includes Australian punter Phillip Richards.
In his two years as head coach, Elder engineered back-to-back top-25 rated recruiting classes. Despite having less than two months to put together his first class, Eastern’s 2016 class was ranked as the 23rd best in the nation. Elder’s second recruiting class was rated as the 14th best.
Eastern Kentucky has won two national championships, 21 conference titles and has made 21 playoff appearances. No other FCS team has won at least two FCS national titles and 20 or more conference championships.
The following are individual profiles of the 2018 early signees.
Daulson Fitzpatrick – DB, 6-1, 190, Fr., Akron, Ohio (Archbishop Hoban HS)
Helped lead Archbishop Hoban to three straight state championships … recorded four interceptions his senior season and returned two of them for touchdowns … had two interceptions as a junior … the Knights went a combined 42-3 his final three seasons … played for head coach Tim Tyrell … also a member of the track team, setting the school record in the 100m dash (10.5) and part of the 4×100 relay team that broke a school record … his dad Rory played football at Marshall University … plans to study sport management.
“Daulson is a long, fast, athletic playmaker in the secondary,” Elder said. “He comes from a great program and will have the opportunity to come in and compete for time right away.”
Drew Hart – OL, 6-7, 310, Fr., Evansville, Ind. (Reitz Memorial HS)
All-state offensive lineman … also earned all-city honors … all-metro and all-conference as a junior and a senior … team captain … played for head coach John Hurley … also a member of the basketball and track teams … class vice president for four years … his uncle Heath Hart played collegiate football at Illinois State University … plans to study business.
“Drew is a very large, athletic offensive lineman,” said Elder. “He is a three-sport athlete, has great feet and the size to be a dominate player. He is a winner, having won a state championship his senior year.”
Peyton Knippenberg – OL, 6-3, 285, Fr., Hebron, Ky. (Conner HS)
All-Tri State and first team all-conference as a senior … team captain … played for head coach Dave Trosper.
“Peyton Knippenberg is a big, physical inside offensive lineman from a great program in Kentucky,” Elder said. “He has the physicality, size and intelligence to be a very good player and a great leader for us in the future.”
Dakota Little – OL, 6-7, 315, Fr., Flowery Branch, Ga. (Flowery Branch HS)
Helped the Falcons to a 9-3 record his senior season … most awarded player on offense … had 80-plus knockdowns and did not allow a sack … played for head coach Ben Hall … plans to study computer science.
“Dakota is an enormous human being that is very physical at the point of attack,” said Elder. “He has height, length, size, great feet and plays very physically. He has a very bright future here at EKU.”
Caleb Martin – WR, 6-4, 195, Fr., Oak Ridge, Tenn. (Oak Ridge HS)
Earned all-region honors as a junior and a senior … totaled 1,250 receiving yards and caught 11 touchdown passes as a senior … played for head coach Joe Gaddis … also played basketball for three years … plans to major in sport management.
“Caleb Martin is a tall, long receiver with good speed and good body control,” Elder said. “His size and hands will create major mismatch problems for our opponents.”
Malik Mays – DB, 5-11, 175, Fr., Norcross, Ga. (Norcross HS)
Had three interceptions, 26 pass break-ups and one forced fumble his senior season at Norcross High School … played for head coach Keith Maloof … played cornerback and safety, and returned punts and kickoffs for the Blue Devils … was also a member of the track team … plans to study social justice.
“Malik is an athletic and physical corner that comes from a great high school in Georgia,” said Elder. “He has the unique ability to run with receivers down field and be supportive in run defense as well.”
Parker McKinney – QB, 6-3, 208, Fr., Coalfield, Tenn. (Coalfield HS)
Tennessee Class 1A Mr. Football … all-state … threw for 3,002 yards and 26 touchdowns … led all Knoxville area high school players with nine interceptions as a safety on defense … region MVP … team captain … played for head coach Keith Henry … also a four year member of the Yellow Jacket basketball team, earning district MVP and district tournament MVP honors … plans to study chemistry.
“Parker is an athletic dual threat quarterback with a very strong arm,” Elder said. “He’s very intelligent and has been extremely productive at Coalfield High School, coming close to breaking numerous state records.”
D.J. Mitchell – DB, 5-9, 170, Fr., Knoxville, Tenn. (Knoxville Catholic HS)
All-state and all-region selection as a senior … had 1,424 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns in 2017 … recorded five interceptions on defense … played for head coach Steve Mathews … also a member of the basketball and track teams.
“D.J. Mitchell is an athletic playmaker that played on both sides of the football for a state championship team at Knoxville Catholic,” said Elder. “We think he has the skill set to be a cover corner and also play nickel for us as well.”
Tyler Nunnelley – OL, 6-3, 290, Fr., Cullman, Ala. (Cullman HS)
All-area and all-region as a junior and a senior … did not allow a sack his senior season and had 70 knockdowns … played for head coach Mark Britton … also a member of the baseball team … plans to study education.
“Tyler Nunnelley is a big, physical offensive lineman with good feet that will play inside for us,” Elder said. “He’s very strong, with over a 400-pound bench press, and he will add a lot to our offensive line with his physicality and toughness.”
Zaire Porter – TE, 6-4, 213, Fr., Columbus, Ohio (Marion Franklin HS)
Earned first team all-state honors as a senior after catching 46 passes for 1,093 yards and hauling in 13 touchdown receptions … averaged 23.8 yards per catch … had one punt return for a touchdown and one interception … also picked up all-district and all-city recognition … chosen to the all-city and all-district teams his junior season after compiling 259 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions, and throwing two touchdown passes … played for head coach Brian Haffele … was also a member of the basketball, track and tennis teams … plans to study sport management.
“Zaire is a first team all-state wide receiver from Marion Franklin in Ohio,” said Elder. “He is a very big framed individual that we are going to use at the tight end position. He has the size potential to be a physical blocker and the receiving skills to be a major threat in the passing game.”
Phillip Richards – P, 6-4, 210, Fr., Mt. Dandenong, Victoria, Australia (St. Joseph’s HS)
Graduated from St. Joseph’s High School in 2013 … played Australian rules football and soccer … was a goalkeeper for Monbulk soccer clubs … has trained with Prokick Australia for the past 14 months … all three finalists for the 2016 Ray Guy Award (nation’s top FBS punter) were former students of Prokick Australia … joins former Colonels Jordan Berry (2009-13) and Keith Wrzuszczak (2014-17) as Australian punters for EKU … Berry has been the punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers the last three seasons and Wrzuszczak has an excellent chance to join the NFL as well … plans to study history.
“We look for Phil to be the next great Australian punter to come through EKU,” Elder said. “He has a very strong leg and has outstanding operation time.”
Kenny Terry – DL, 6-4, 230, Fr., Fairburn, Ga. (Palmetto Preparatory Academy)
Was chosen first team all-region his senior season at Landmark Christian School in 2016 after helping the War Eagles to an 11-2 record … attended Palmetto Preparatory Academy in the fall of 2017, leading the team with eight sacks to go along with 34 tackles and two forced fumbles … his father Mike played football at the University of Tennessee … his brother Michael played tennis at Emanuel College … his uncle Kenneth Terry played football at the University of West Georgia … his cousin Robert Brandon Green played football at the Naval Academy … plans to study sports marketing.
“Kenny is a big bodied athletic defensive end,” said Elder. “He was very productive in both high school and prep school. He comes from a family of great football players.”
Adam Valiga – TE, 6-5, 245, Jr., Orland Park, Ill. (College of DuPage)
AT COLLEGE OF DuPAGE
Appeared in 10 games as a sophomore … caught 10 passes for 132 yards and hauled in one touchdown catch as a junior … averaged 13.2 yards per catch … played in 11 games as a freshman … caught five passes for 30 yards and had one touchdown grab … played at Carl Sandburg High School.
“Adam Valiga is a complete tight end,” Elder said. “We can use him as an inline blocker, or flex him out and run a wide variety of routes with him.”
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