University of Akron football coach Tom Arth added 23 players to his first Zips roster Wednesday on national signing day.
Arth focused on defense in his first class, signing seven defensive backs, five linebackers and two defensive linemen. On offense, UA signed four linemen, two wide receivers, a quarterback and a running back, and a punter was signed for special teams.
A class of 23 signees and 11 walk-ons (all from Ohio) represents a remarkable number given that Arth and his staff arrived just before the early signing period in December and the majority of players with Division I talent had already been signed, which wasn’t the case when Arth left John Carroll University to coach at UT-Chattanooga.
“In theory, everyone was available and it was different this year and it was a great challenge and one that I think we handled about as well as you can,” Arth said.
The UA class has players from Cleveland to Massillon to Florida and in between.
Of particular note is 315-pound Xavior Gray, a 6-9 offensive lineman from Jackson. Gray dropped more than 100 pounds to get a shot at playing college football at the highest level, and he now gets to do it near home. Gray, who weighed 484 pounds at his heaviest, appears to embody what the recently hired Arth values and considers a fit for the program he intends to build at UA.
“What he has done in transforming himself speaks volumes to what he’s capable of,” Arth said. “You look at his dimensions and his athleticism, the way he plays, combined with the work ethic that you know he has and the discipline you know he has ... so we are very excited about Xavior and his future.”
Arth stressed the players he and his staff recruited represented the right fit for the UA program.
“When you start, it’s all about character over talent,” he said of the process.
Arth and his staff looked at film, talked to high school coaches and decided who was up to standard athletically.
“Then from there, it’s understanding who are the ones who have the character and the intellect that you are looking for that are going to be a great fit for this program and what we’re trying to build,” he said. “And I think that’s an important piece of the puzzle for us, for our staff and our future success.”
As important as what Arth did say was what he didn’t. Although some coaches arrive in new situations lamenting being left with with a bare cupboard, he only mentioned two positions that required his immediate attention. One was the defensive backfield, which was addressed with those seven signees to replace last season's senior-laden group that has now departed.
The other position was running back after the Zips averaged just 95.2 yards per game last season. Peter Hayes-Patrick a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder from Orlando, Fla., with offers from Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Indiana agreed to come to Akron and will receive an opportunity to change UA’s fortunes on the ground.
“That was a position where we were concerned, because there wasn’t a whole lot left,” Arth said. “When we found Pete, we kind of knew this is the No. 1 guy. This is the guy we have to have.”
Arth said Hayes-Patrick is capable of coming in and challenging for playing time.
“With the depth at that position and the experience at that position, I think he’s going to have a great opportunity," Arth said. “Whether he’s the early down player, starter, he’ll have to earn that ... we would expect him to play and have carries for us this season.”
Hayes-Patrick won’t be the only newcomer given that chance.
“Everyone will have an equal opportunity. Our responsibility and our job description is to go coach and develop the best players that we can and to put the best 11 on the field in every situation that we have,” Arth said. “Everybody will be given an opportunity and everyone will be competing for that chance to play for us this fall.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.