A pair of River Parish football players have leaned the sway of Frank Wilson, considered one of the top recruiters in the country.
Wilson, in his first year as head coach at McNeese State after tenures as a top recruiter for Southeastern Conference teams and then as head coach at Texas-San Antonio, hauled in both Welland Williams of East St. John and Elijah Hamilton of Hahnville on Wednesday.
“He knows how to connect with us as players and regular people,” said Williams, a 6-foot-1, 280-pound defensive linemen.
“He just a cool, laid-back dude. He can really relate to a lot of things that I have been going through. The relationship that he has with me, I had no other choice but to say, ‘yes,’” said Hamilton, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound defensive back and kick returner.
Wilson’s attributes were also noticed by River Parish coaches.
“What I like about Coach Wilson is he’s about building relationships. I think that’s the reason he’s had the amount of success he has had as a recruiter. He does a good job of building relationships,” said East St. John coach Brandon Brown.
“I’m biased, being from here and coaching in the River Parishes a long time,” Hahnville coach Daniel Luquet said. “I think with the talent and the great programs we have in the River Parishes, I think coaches come into this area knowing the kids will show up and have played in some big football games.
“I think Frank, being from the (New Orleans) area, he knows that. When you are trying to instill a new program at a place like McNeese, I don’t think you have to go far outside of Louisiana to find everything that you need. I think he’s done a great job of staying local.”
Every aspect of life seems to have been affected by VOVID-19 in one way or another. That was true for early signing day for colleges on Wednesday.
The signing class on Wednesday around the country wasn’t nearly as big as a year ago. Many players are awaiting the February signing date when perhaps times will be better and larger gatherings for celebrations will be allowed.
For those who signed Wednesday, some signed at school while others did it from home – much the same way things have been done since the coronavirus pandemic.
Williams and Alijah Hamilton chose to sign at their respective schools.
Hamilton’s signing at Hahnville was also a multi-sport affair as a pair of softball players also made their destinations known Wednesday. MaKenna Cortez is off the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and Kathyrn Smith with Jones College.
From the gridiron, it wasn’t just Football Bowl Subdivision teams who came away with River Parish signees.
Jackie Marshall of East St. John from home with Baylor, a school he had verbally committed to since July 4.
“It’s a blessing being able to sign,” said Marshall, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound defensive lineman/linebacker. “It’s where I committed early. It’s a program that I wanted to be a part of. I never in doubt of switching or de-commiting. I knew it was the place I wanted to be.”
With so much swirling around him that he couldn’t control, Marshall decided to stake a claim to the Baylor program early.
“With COVID, a lot of things started happening. You couldn’t go on visits. It was Skype and Zoom and Facetime. It was one of the top schools and they stayed in contact every day and make sure I was good,” Marshall said.
Also signing Wednesday was St. Charles Catholic linebacker Mandel Eugene, who opted for Tulane.
“Tulane is like a family, at least from what I’ve seen,” said Eugene, a 6-foot, 201-pound linebacker. “It also reminds me of SCC. It’s not too big of a school and everybody is close. They don’t just worry about you as a football player, they worry about you as a person, also.”
Coaches were quick to laud the attributes of their players, such as St. Charles Catholic’s Frank Monica about Eugene.
“Mandel is probably as close to being a coach’s player that you want to be,” Monica said. “You would like all your players to be like him because he has such great leadership as well as talent on the field. He’s the guy underneath the goalpost, screaming and yelling and trying to get his players going. He’s the guy on the sideline who doesn’t mind getting in another player’s face to get him going. He doesn’t mind taking that leadership role on his shoulders because he does it by example, too. It’s not all talk with him.
“He’s a gentleman off the field and a demon on the field. That’s the kind of mix that you want.”
Brown was equally as effusive about Williams.
“He’s someone who works extremely hard. He’s someone who does everything right on the field. The beauty with him is you can move him around on the entire line. You can play him inside as a defensive tackle and you can play him defensive end. He’s one of those guys that just brings his lunchbox every day. He’s one of the first to be in the building and one of the last to leave,” said Brown.
The East St. John coach also had equal praise for Marshall.
“They are getting a guy who can play inside and can play outside. He can rush off the edge. In the recruiting process, people were talking about maybe standing him as a linebacker. I think that’s what Baylor is going to do. They are getting one heck of a player,” Brown said.
Luquet said he could envision Hamilton getting some early playing time, perhaps as nickel back.
“Alijah is a guy who has been in a lot of big football games. He’s a guy that competition is something he thrives on. I think (the McNeese State Cowboys) are getting a very versatile kid, both defensively and a kid who can flip the field when it comes to special teams,” the Hahnville coach said.