Signing Day Recap for App State Football

College Sports

NEW ORLEANS — App State Football put together the highest-rated class in its FBS history by adding 17 student-athletes Wednesday on National Signing Day.

It’s been an eventful week for the 20th-ranked Mountaineers (12-1), as Shawn Clark was named the head football coach Friday and the team arrived in New Orleans on Tuesday in advance of its R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl matchup with UAB (9-4) on Saturday night.

By the end of the first day of the December signing period, with every one of App State’s high school signees receiving a three-star ranking from 247Sports, the Mountaineers’ average player grade of 82.8 is their highest since the FCS-to-FBS transition. Fresh off winning a fourth straight conference title, they have the top-ranked class in the Sun Belt and a top-10 class among all G5 programs.

“We’re very excited about it, and it’s a group we’ve been recruiting since last year,” Clark said. “Not only do we have great players, but also great families involved. Those players are already connecting among themselves and our current players, and we’re very excited to get them on campus.

“We’re a top-20 program. Appalachian has a great tradition of extraordinary players, and we want the right kind of guys — the guys that want to be here and want to get a great education and win championships.”

With a February signing period still to follow, App State has improved its standing within the Sun Belt’s class rankings for the third straight year.

The top-ranked 2020 class includes three of the Mountaineers’ six highest-graded prospects since the move to the FBS level, as Lithonia, Ga., defensive back Tommy Wright is the highest-rated signee in App State’s FBS history with a grade of 86.99 from 247Sports. Gaffney, S.C., teammates Stan Ellis (defensive back) and Je’Mari Littlejohn (linebacker) are also among the top six.

Wide receiver Christan Horn’s signed paperwork arrived first at 7:05 a.m. ET, or 6:15 a.m. in New Orleans. The signing class to date includes four defensive linemen, four defensive backs, three offensive linemen, three linebackers, one quarterback, one receiver and one tight end.

“It was exciting — the only bad thing about today was it started an hour earlier since we’re in a different time zone,” App State recruiting coordinator Justin Watts said with a chuckle. “We started getting the text messages about 6 a.m., and we’re really pleased with the way it went.”

“We were looking to get longer — we’re always going to recruit speed,” Watts added. “At the DB position and the O-line, we wanted to get some length, and we feel like we addressed that.”

In becoming the first FBS program from North Carolina to win 12 games in a season, the Mountaineers are the top-ranked team in the state for the second straight year, and they’ve added five in-state signees: defensive lineman DeAndre Dingle-Prince (Sanford, N.C.), offensive lineman Austin Reeves (Mooresville, N.C.), defensive lineman Markell Samuel (Fort Bragg, N.C.), quarterback Navy Shuler (Fletcher, N.C.) and offensive lineman Seth Williams (Statesville, N.C.)

App State has a 7-0 record against teams from the Carolinas in the last two seasons, including wins at Coastal Carolina and South Carolina in its two visits to the Palmetto State, and the Mountaineers signed six prospects from South Carolina. That group includes Ellis, Littlejohn, Horn (Columbia, S.C.), offensive lineman Damion Daley (Georgia Military College via Columbia, S.C), linebacker Kevon Haigler (Hartsville, S.C.) and tight end Eli Wilson (Piedmont, S.C.)

In addition to covering the Carolinas, App State signed three players from Georgia, two from Florida and one from the Washington, D.C., area. Defensive back Ronald Clarke (Buford, Ga.) and defensive lineman Jamar Rucks (Buford, Ga.) are from the same hometown, and Wright was named the Athlete of the Year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the all-region team for the 5-AAAAA level.

Defensive back Mike Smith signed in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., and was later joined by defensive lineman Stephen Passeggiata from Wellington, Fla. Jalen McLeod is a talented linebacker from Laurel, Md.

“(Recruits) get around and see how genuine our players’ love for each other is, how much our coaching staff cares about each other and cares about these players,” Watts said. “You get them on a game day, and they see what this fan base does at The Rock. That’s why the coaching change didn’t affect this class much. These guys are committed to App State.”


Ronald Clarke – DB
6-0, 180
Buford, Ga. (Mill Creek)
BIO: Had 37 tackles, one interception, eight PBUs, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery as a senior while helping Mill Creek go 10-3 and reach the state 7-A quarterfinals … Made 55 tackles with one interception, six PBUs, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble as a junior … A track standout who has run sprints and relays at Mill Creek … Played for coach Josh Lovelady at Mill Creek … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

Damion Daley – OL
6-4, 290
Columbia, S.C. (Georgia Military­­)
BIO: Played offensive line and helped Georgia Military post an 8-3 record and rank 12th nationally at the junior college level in 2019 … Played for coach Bert Williams at Georgia Military … Redshirted at Colorado State in 2018 while appearing in one game as a true freshman defensive lineman … Attended Ridge View High School in Columbia, S.C. … At Ridge View, a two-time all-state and all-region selection who was named the region’s top defender … As a prep senior, represented South Carolina in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas …  Had 86 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, five sacks and two interceptions as a prep senior … Finished prep career with 164 tackles, 42 tackles for loss, six sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles … Also an all-state performer in track … Daley’s brother, Dennis, is an offensive lineman for the Carolina Panthers.

DeAndre Dingle-Prince – DL
6-0, 260
Sanford, N.C. (Lee County)
BIO: Team captain who helped lead Lee County to the state 3-AA final and a 15-1 record as a senior … Recorded 96 tackles (66 solo), 43 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, eight blocked kicks, eight QB hurries and one fumble recovery for the state finalist in 2019 … Three-year starter helped lead team to a 38-3 record and three conference titles in those seasons … Also blocked for an offensive line that helped the offense average more than 40 points a game and amass more than 15,000 yards … All-conference as a senior … Named first-team all-conference at defensive tackle as a junior with 67 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, eight QB hurries, two fumble recoveries and three blocked kicks … Coached by Steve Burdeau at Lee County … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

Stan Ellis – DB
6-0, 185
Gaffney, S.C. (Gaffney)
BIO: Defensive back and receiver on a Gaffney team that reached a state 5-A semifinal, where he scored a 42-yard touchdown … Intercepted three passes, broke up five more, recovered a fumble and blocked a kick during an injury-interrupted senior year … As a defender, completed prep career with four interceptions, four blocked kicks, two defensive touchdowns, one forced fumble, five tackles for loss and 38 total stops …Finished prep receiving career with 42 catches for 1,010 yards, 12 receiving touchdowns and three passing TDs … Caught 31 passes for 710 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior … Played for coach Dan Jones at Gaffney … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports and Rivals … 247Sports also listed him as the 13th-best prospect from South Carolina.

Kevon Haigler – LB
6-1, 225
Hartsville, S.C. (Hartsville­­)
BIO: Class 4-A all-state selection as a senior for a 10-4 team that reached the state 4-A semifinals … Selected to represent South Carolina in the 2019 Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas … Had 94 tackles, six sacks, 17 tackles for loss and three interceptions as a senior … Named 4-A All-Region 6 and All-Pee Dee as a junior, when he had 94 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception and one fumble recovery … A four-year starter and member of the SCACA all-state team … Played for coach Jeff Calabrese at Hartsville … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports and Rivals … Listed as the 19th-best prospect from South Carolina by Rivals.

Christan Horn – WR
6-2, 180
Columbia, S.C. (Westwood)
BIO: Limited to four games as a senior due to injury, had 37 catches for 540 yards and four touchdowns on an 8-4 team that reached the second round of the state 4-A playoffs … Played receiver and quarterback in high school … First place in the 400 meters at the state 4-A track championships as a junior with a time of 47.69 seconds … Played for coach Matt Quinn as a senior at Westwood … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

Je’Mari Littlejohn – LB
6-0, 225
Gaffney, S.C. (Gaffney­­)
BIO: Selected to represent South Carolina as a member of the Shrine Bowl team … After appearing in three games as a senior, sidelined by an injury for the rest of the season as Gaffney reached a state 5-A semifinal … Finished prep career with 141 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 16.5 sacks, four QB hurries, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one interception, one blocked punt and two defensive touchdowns … Before the injury as a senior, had 7.0 tackles for loss and four rushing TDs in those three game appearances … Had 54 tackles, 11 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, 23 QB hurries, an interception and a blocked punt as a junior … Played for coach Dan Jones at Gaffney … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports and Rivals, which both listed him as the 18th-best prospect from South Carolina.

Jalen McLeod – LB
6-1, 215
Laurel, Md. (Friendship Collegiate Academy)
BIO: Standout defender for a team that went 10-3 and repeated as the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association state 2-A champion in 2019 …  Had 60 tackles, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles, four interceptions and 15 QB hurries as a senior … As a junior, helped lead his team to a 10-3 record and a DCSAA state championship with a 13-0 record … Named honorable mention All-Met by The Washington Post … Played for coach Mike Hunter at Friendship Collegiate Academy … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

Stephen Passeggiata – DL
6-2, 230
Wellington, Fla. (Wellington)
BIO: Named to the Palm Beach Post’s Super 11 team entering his senior season … First-team All-Palm Beach Post 8A-6A, first-team all-conference and third-team all-state as a junior with 68 tackles, 14 sacks and 27 tackles for loss … Played for coach Tom Abel at Wellington … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

Austin Reeves – OL
6-5, 255
Mooresville, N.C. (Lake Norman)
BIO: All-conference selection as a senior leader for a 6-6 team at Lake Norman … Helped the Wildcats rush for more than 2,500 yards in 2019 … Coached by Jonathan Oliphant at Lake Norman … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

Jamar Rucks – DL
6-3, 245
Buford, Ga. (Lanier)
BIO: Named an All-Region 8-AAAAAA selection after posting 9.0 sacks, 12.0 tackles for loss, 11 QB hurries and 49 total tackles as a senior … Helped Lanier go 10-2 and reach Georgia’s state 6-A quarterfinals in 2019 … On a 10-4 team as a junior, had 41 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks and 13 QB hurries … Made honorable mention all-region in 2018 … Played for coach Korey Mobbs at Lanier … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports and Rivals.

Markell Samuel – DL
6-4, 215
Fort Bragg, N.C. (E.E. Smith)
BIO: Recorded 70 tackles (50 solo), six sacks and three fumble recoveries as a senior at E.E. Smith … Had three multi-sack games and three TFLs in a close loss to a strong Terry Sanford team in 2019 … Late bloomer who focused more on basketball early in high school and made his varsity football debut as a junior, when he posted 52 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles … Two-time all-conference selection … Played for coach Deron Donald as a senior for the Golden Bulls … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

Navy Shuler – QB
6-0, 195
Fletcher, N.C. (Christ School)
BIO: Over final two prep seasons, threw for more than 6,000 yards with 64 TDs … Finished career with a 67.3 completion percentage … As a junior for a state finalist, became the first Western North Carolina (WNC) quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards … Averaged 209.5 passing yards and two TD throws a game as a senior, when he also averaged 9.1 yards per rush while recording 346 rushing yards … Threw for a season-high 310 yards in a 14-13 win against Providence Day as a senior … During his team’s 10-2 season in 2018, had a game with 581 passing yards and six touchdowns. Threw for at least 300 yards in 10 games that season … Played for coach Nick Luhm during his senior year and Tommy Langford as a junior … Son of former Tennessee and NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, who worked as a volunteer assistant for Luhm … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports and Rivals.

Mike Smith – DB
6-0, 195
Jacksonville, Fla. (First Coast)
BIO: Entered the season ranked No. 25 on the top 40 list for northeast Florida prospects … Averaged five tackles and three PBUs a game as a senior, when he totaled two interceptions … Named all-conference as a senior … Defensive captain …. Played for coach Marty Lee at First Coast … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

Seth Williams – OL
6-4, 315
Statesville, N.C. (Statesville)
BIO: Three-year starter on the offensive line with 150 pancake blocks as Statesville went 30-8 over those three seasons … First-team all-state from … All-conference as a senior for a Statesville team that took a 12-0 record into a second-round playoff loss … 2019 team captain with 62 pancakes as a senior … Instrumental part of an offense that averaged 43.5 points during the 12 wins … Played center and offensive tackle … Key part of offensive line that created holes as the Greyhounds rushed for 2,617 yards and threw for 2,905 in 2019 … Named first-team all-conference and all-county as a junior, when he recorded 56 pancake blocks … Played for coach Randall Gusler at Statesville … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

Eli Wilson – TE
6-3, 215
Piedmont, S.C. (Wren)
BIO: As an all-state pick, helped lead Wren to a 13-2 record and its first state 4-A championship in South Carolina … Finished his senior season with 1,677 receiving yards and 20 touchdown catches on 91 receptions as a wide receiver … North all-star team’s MVP in the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives Bowl with six receptions for 84 yards, including a one-handed catch for 33 yards … Put up more than 100 yards in seven of the first eight games as a senior, highlighted by a three-touchdown, 195-yard game … Had a season-high 203 receiving yards with three TDs on eight catches in a 65-29 win against Greer … Combined for 26 catches in Wren’s only two losses, which were games decided by eight and six points … Had 12 touchdown catches and 1,140 receiving yards as a junior, when he was named an all-state and all-region performer … Ended prep career with 3,124 receiving yards, 179 catches and 33 TD catches … Father, Mike, played football at Furman from 1984-87 … Also played basketball in each of his first three years at Wren and was the team’s leading rebounder … Played football for coach Jeff Tate at Wren … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.

Tommy Wright – DB
5-11, 175
Lithonia, Ga. (Southwest DeKalb)
BIO: Named the Athlete of the Year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the all-region team for the 5-AAAAA level … Made the first-team defense as a cornerback and the second-team offense as a wide receiver … Had an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in his final game for Southwest, which went 9-2 in 2019 … Had three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and four special teams TDs for a 10-1 team as a junior, when he was named an all-region athlete … Coached at Southwest by Damien Wimes … Also a track standout, has run the 100 meters in 11.24 seconds and gone a school-record 23 feet, 11 inches in the long jump … Rated a three-star prospect and the nation’s No. 35 athlete by 247Sports.

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