Published: Thursday, February 6, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 6, 2014 09:02
The University of Rhode Island football team is ready to transition into the Jim Fleming era after going 3-20 over the past two seasons and releasing head coach Joe Trainer from his contract.
The process began this Wednesday when the Rams’ new head coach announced at a press conference in the Thomas M. Ryan Center that 19 players signed national letters of intent, 18 of whom have four years of eligibility.
“We were able to achieve a very solid recruiting class and one we’re very proud of,” Fleming said. “We’ve got some guys who are going to need some help but as you develop a football program, you’re only strong together.”
While the Rhode Island defense doubled their sacks from eight to 16 and quadrupled their interception total from two to eight from the 2012 to 2013 season, they allowed more than 35 points in six games (0-6) last year. The Rams also lost one of their best defensive linemen, James Timmins, who was fourth on the team with 53 total tackles and had one interception and two forced fumbles.
To improve these statistics and account for losses like Timmins, 13 of the 19 players committed to Rhode Island play on the defense, including six linemen and tackles, four defensive backs and three linebackers.
Among the core defensive line recruits are Derek Allen and Marcus Pantoja, both hailing from New Jersey. Allen, who is 6 feet 6 inches and 300 lbs., totaled 144 tackles, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and nine sacks for Edison High School. Pantoja, who is 6 feet 3 inches and 275 lbs., averaged just fewer than five tackles as a senior and led his Paramus Catholic team to a New Jersey State Parochial Group 4 Championship with 25 tackles and five sacks in the playoffs.
“[Allen] is extremely explosive,” Rhode Island defensive line coach Joe Coniglio said. “We cannot wait to get him on campus and get him developed and we think he can make an impact.”
Tyrone Barge, Jose Duncan, Michael LeBlanc and Monte Sinisi round out the defensive line signees, combining for 230 tackles during their senior years.
Kingsley Ayeni, T.J. Anderson and Emmanuel Jalbert comprise the multi-talented linebacker crew brought in by Rhode Island to help lower their conference-worst 216.2 rush yards allowed per game. Anderson was noted for his versatility, as he will also be used as an option quarterback this season. Ayeni, out of Voorhees, N.J., notched 43 tackles and 5.5 sacks in his senior year and rushed for 614 yards on 80 carries and eight touchdowns on the offensive side of the ball. Jalbert had 89 tackles, four sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception in his senior season at Shrewbury High School in Massachusetts.
Isaiah Hill, one of Rhode Island’s newest defensive backs, hails from Don Bosco Preparatory High School and transferred from the Milford Academy. In his sophomore year at Don Bosco he helped his team reel in a national champhionsip.
Shawn Antoine, who tallied 149 career tackles at Cardinal Hayes in Bronx, N.Y., and Dunston Payne, a transfer from Monroe College in New York who had 22 tackles and 10 pass break-ups last season, will also be brought in to improve a Rams’ secondary that was fifth in the Colonial Athletic Association after allowing an average of 223.9 yards through the air each game. Russell Walton, who also attended Don Bosco, was recruited to play cornerback at URI after making 20 tackles with three interceptions last season.
On the offensive side of the ball, where Rhode Island ranked last in the CAA with 13.2 points per game, Fleming brought in transfer quarterback Mack Lowrie to create competition at the position. Lowrie, who sat at Boston College last season, was the first player recruited by the Rams this year.
The player under center for Rhode Island will have some extra help, too. Dino Boyd, coming in at 6 feet 4 inches and 250 lbs., was brought in to strengthen the offensive line and running backs Harold Cooper and Markey Clarke will give the Rams’ rushing offense more options.
“[Clarke] was probably one of the most highly recruited kids in [the Wayne, N.J.] area,” Rhode Island quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator Jim Miceli said. “He is a very, very productive kid, averaged almost 10 yards per carry [last year].”
Clarke was a 1,000-yard rusher in his senior year and Cooper will also help improve the special teams at URI as he averaged 25.65 yards on 25 kickoffs and 22.67 yards on 24 punt returns.
Wide receiver Ezra Holmes and tight end Grant Lewis will give the passing game extra options and more length. Holmes, who stands at 6 feet 3 inches, caught 35 passes and five touchdowns last year at the Canterbury School. He is also noted for his leaping ability as he reached 6 feet 8 inches on the high jump during his high school career. Lewis has offensive and defensive experience, grabbing five touchdowns last year while also ranking second the team in tackles.
At the conclusion of the press conference, Fleming guaranteed success for a Rhode Island program that has not seen it in a while.
“We are going to win games,” Fleming said. “We are going to win championships. We are going to do it the right way.”