Minium: Wilder Delivers on his Promise to Remake ODU's Defense
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
Over the long haul, Old Dominion’s most significant signee on the first day of the early signing period on Wednesday could be Hayden Wolff.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound quarterback from Venice, Fla., is a consensus 3-star recruit who completed 189 passes for 2,684 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior.
He committed to ODU early and turned down offers from Western Kentucky, Tulane, FIU, UMass, Charlotte and Georgia State. He also turned down an offer from Kentucky, an SEC school that pressed him to commit as signing day approached.
He could be ODU’s quarterback of the future.
But coming off a disappointing 4-8 season, ODU was in dire need of immediate help, especially on defense, where the Monarchs ranked last in Conference USA.
And coach Bobby Wilder delivered on his promise made in November to remake his defensive roster.
Wilder announced that 23 players signed with ODU, including 13 junior college players. Eleven of the 13 JUCO players are defensive players, and all 13 transfers will enroll at ODU for the spring semester.
So will Wolff, who graduated from high school a semester early to participate in winter workouts and spring practice. Yes, he will be a true freshman, and Wilder likes his freshmen to red shirt. But with eight weeks of winter workouts and spring practice under his belt before summer practice begins, Wolff could compete for playing time next season.
Coach Bobby Wilder and his staff signed 25 players Wednesday, including 15 from junior colleges.
So will Stone Smartt, a 6-4, 215-pound quarterback from Riverside Community College in Riverside, California who is the highest-rated JUCO player.
Also a 3-star recruit, he completed 177 passes for 2,754 yards and 31 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also rushed for 583 yards and nine TD’s and was named a first-team All-American and California JUCO Offensive Player of the Year.
He chose ODU over New Mexico, South Alabama and UConn.
He will compete with Blake LaRussa, who had an outstanding season for the Monarchs last season as a starter, and Steven Williams, the sophomore who redshirted last season.
Adding two quarterbacks provides the Monarchs depth a key position where they’ve lacked depth in recent years.
But the most obvious impact of this class will come on defense, where ODU signed some players with impressive credentials.
Coach Bobby Wilder calls JUCO transfer Blake Hehl "a weight room warrior."
ODU signed four JUCO defensive linemen, and that was needed given the Monarchs lost four starters along the defensive front.
Defensive lineman Blake Hehl (6-2, 290), from Huntington Beach, Calif., who had 29 tackles, two sacks and three fumble recoveries in ten games last season for Fullerton College, is among those who will compete right away for playing time.
“He’s a weight room warrior,” Wilder said of Hehl. “Our players fell in love with him. He has a tremendous passion for the game and will be a tremendous addition to our defensive line.”
The Monarchs also signed three JUCO linebackers and two safeties and cornerbacks each.
“We needed immediate competition, especially on defense,” Wilder said. “And every one of these guys we recruited has been told they’re coming here to compete right away.”
ODU had a lot to sell. Work is underway on a $67.5 million overhaul of S.B. Ballard Stadium, which will replace the historic but antiquated Foreman Field and will finally provide the Monarchs with a true Football Bowl Subdivision facility.
JUCO quarterback Stone Smartt will compete for playing time beginning in spring practice.
ODU also offers plenty of playing time against a quality schedule that includes games with Virginia and Virginia Tech next season, and three ACC teams in 2020.
ODU lost most of its starters, and Wilder has made clear most of the returning starters on defense will face competition from the 11 defensive JUCO signees.
ODU’s 49-35 victory over Virginia Tech, considered one of the biggest upsets in college football history, was a factor in recruiting, Wilder said.
“The win over Virginia Tech was big because it was a national game,” Wilder said. “Everyone in America loves an underdog.
“I was shocked at how many people across the country, from Texas to California, watched that game.
“It was a segue to everything else we’ve got to offer on campus here.”
Quarteback Hayden Wolff will enroll at ODU in January as a true freshman.
Although it’s difficult to judge JUCO players because recruiting services spend little time rating them, several of the new defensive players have impressive statistics.
Cornerback Will Brocchini from Sierra College in California, had 22 interceptions in 21 games in two seasons. He was a two-time JUCO All-American and had 34 tackles as a senior.
Linebacker Cory Jackson (6-4, 200) had 38 tackles, three sacks and an interception for Pearl River College in Mississippi. Wilder said Jackson’s body and style of play remind him of Lawrence Garner, ODU’s standout linebacker who led Conference USA in tackles per game.
Safety R’Tarriun Jackson from Mississippi Gulf Coast College had 110 tackles in two years as a safety. “He has a tremendous ability to get people on the ground,” Wilder said.
Linebacker Tony Williams (6-2, 220) from Saddleback College in California had more than 100 tackles in two years, and he can also play the nickel position in passing situations.
Safety Harrell Blackmon, from Copiah-Lincoln College in Mississippi, had 56 tackles, four interceptions, a blocked punt and scored two touchdowns. As a senior at Callaway High in Jackson, Miss., he had 146 tackles.
Of the 13 JUCO signees, seven were from California, three from Mississippi and one each from Texas, Florida and Kansas.
Recruiting so many JUCO players was a mammoth task for an ODU staff reduced by four when Wilder let four coaches go in November.
In spite of the victory over Virginia Tech, and comeback victories against WKU and North Texas, last year’s 4-8 record, Wilder said, “wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t what we’ve become accustomed to with Old Dominion football.”
This isn’t the first time ODU has filled holes with JUCO players. When Wilder began ODU’s startup program in 2009, he had major success recruiting junior colleges in California. Thomas DeMarco, ODU’s first starting quarterback, and now a fundraiser for the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation, was among that first class.
“Junior college players have played at a higher level of competition,” Wilder said. “They are older, more veteran players.
“A majority of these guys have spent two years playing. And the ones that we’ve recruited have played against the top junior colleges in America.
“They went to junior college to be recruited by Division I programs. They’re hungry for success.”
Wilder signed nine other high school players, including three offensive linemen. Brandon Ruff, a 2-star recruit from Liberty High in Bedford, Va., just west of Lynchburg, was a two-way starter and could be an impact player next season.
Frederik Antoine, a 6-4 wide receiver from Laval, Quebec, one of the top-rated recruits in Canada, also signed with ODU as did KeShawn Wicks, a 6-1 running back from Moncks Corner, S.C., who rushed for 2,133 yards as a junior and 1,931 a a senior.
ODU isn't finished recruiting, Wilder said. A second national signing day is coming in February, and the Monarchs will focus on more high school players between now and then.
2018 ODU Football Early Signees
Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Hometown Previous School
Isaac Abel, TE, 6-1, 260 Mechanicsville, Va. Atlee
Frederik Antoine. WR, 6-1, 200 Laval, Quebec, Canada, Montmorency College
Tyre Bibby, DT, 6-3, 252 Hialeah, Fla. Northwestern, Coffeyville
Harrell Blackmon, S, 5-11, 190 Jackson, Miss. Callaway, Copiah-Lincoln
Will Brocchini, CB, 5-9, 170, Rocklin, Calif., Whitney, Sierra
Braxton Collins, WR, 6-4, 176 Greer, S.C./Greer
Kaleb Ford-Dement, CB, 5-11, 170 Whitehouse, Texas, Whitehouse, Kilgore
Elijah Golston, DE, 6-4, 218 Seattle, Wash., Garfield, Mt. San Antonio
Blake Hehl, DT, 6-2, 277 Huntington Beach, Calif., Orange Lutheran, Fullerton College
Ryan Henry, LB, 6-2, 215, Goulds, Fla., Miami Southridge, ASA College Miami
Cory Jackson, LB, 6-4, 200 Poplarsville, Miss., Madison Ridgeland, Pearl River
R’Tarriun Johnson, S, 5-11, 190 Wiggins, Miss., Stone, Mississippi Gulf Coast
Elonte Jones, DE, 6-4, 230 Lynchburg, Va., Brookville
Khadere Kounta, DE, 6-6, 263, Bethesda, Md., The Avalon School
Teagan McDonald, OL, 6-3, 295 Fredericksburg, Va., Massaponax
Austin Mosier, OL, 6-3, 270 Piscataway, N.J., Piscataway High
Carson Ramos, DL, 6-3, 260 Yuba City, Calif., Yuba City, American River College
Brandon Ruff, OL, 6-6, 270 Bedford, Va., Liberty High
Stone Smartt, QB, 6-4, 215 Antelope, Calif., Del OroHigh, Northern Arizona, Riverside City College
City Brandon Smith, OL, 6-3, 276 Las Vegas, Nev., Desert Oasis High, Saddleback College
Keshawn Wicks, RB, 6-1, 180 Moncks Corner, S.C., Berkeley High
Tony Williams, LB, 6-2, 220 Mission Viejo, Calif., Mission Viejo High, Saddleback College
Hayden Wolff, QB, 6-5, 210 Venice, Fla., Venice High