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The Pursuit '17: Sanford vows to make first recruiting class a strong one

WKU new head football coach Mike Sanford is formally announced at a press conference on...
WKU new head football coach Mike Sanford is formally announced at a press conference on Wednesday at L.T. Smith, Dec. 14, 2016. Matt Lunsford / WKU Athletics(WBKO)
Published: Dec. 15, 2016 at 2:17 PM CST
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Western Kentucky already had a pretty good recruiting class taking form for 2017. Mike Sanford has to make sure that momentum keeps moving forward while putting his own stamp on the next class of Hilltoppers.

“Our hashtag is going to be, ‘The Pursuit 17.’ We’re coming after the class of 2017,” Sanford said Wednesday. “We’re gonna pursue the best players we can possibly get here.”

At least one WKU commit has bought in – wide receiver Alex Marshall of Lake Nona High School in Orlando Fla., conveyed his thoughts on his Twitter page Thursday.

Western Kentucky has lost a handful of commitments since former coach Jeff Brohm left for Purdue earlier in the month. That’s not uncommon over the course of a coaching change.

But others who had pledged to be Hilltoppers haven’t wavered.

Said quarterback Davis Shanely of South Forysth High School in Cumming, Ga.: “Very exciting to have a new head coach! I have not had a chance to speak with him yet; however I look forward to getting to meet him and to know what he plans to do with the team!”

Said offensive lineman Woodford Lankford of Lexington Catholic: “I’m very optimistic with the hire. He is a great offensive mind and I'm very much looking forward to the chance to meet him. He's gonna be able to keep bringing success to this program.”

Said linebacker Juwuan Jones from Lanier High School in Buford, Ga.: “I thinks it's a good hire because he is coming from a great program such as Notre Dame. Although I don't know too much about him, I would like to get to know him.”

Christian County defensive back Kenneth Major said, “I think he's a good coach and can hopefully continue what coach Brohm left.”

Western Kentucky was also able to sign a pair of defensive linemen this week in Jaylon George and Carson Jordan. Not counting that duo, there are 18 prospects who have remained – at least publicly – committed to WKU.

Sanford, from his previous stint with the Tops in 2010, said he knows The Hill is a place he and his future staff can recruit to.

“Great facilities, a great community, a great town, 45 minutes to Nashville – well, an hour if normal people drive,” he said. "Then an opportunity to be in an recruiting area that’s so fertile. It’s awesome to be able to have a campus that’s located strategically for players of all regions, from strong, talent-rich areas to be able to drive here to Bowling Green, Ky.”

The former Notre Dame offensive coordinator is a noted recruiter. His name has been connected with offensive stars at Stanford, Boise State and UND.

He’s also made a name for himself for bringing new-age tactics to the table when it comes to connecting with prospects. And having been at programs in the West, East and Midwest, his recruiting reach isn’t contained to one area of the country.

“We’re gonna pursue the best players. We’re gonna pursue the best players in Conference USA and we’re gonna pursue the best players in the state of Kentucky,” he said. “We really believe that we are one of three flagship institutions in the state of Kentucky here at Western Kentucky University. So we’re gonna recruit as such.

“We’re gonna relentlessly go after the neighboring states. I think that’s what’s so impressive about this job and what’s so appealing about it, is we truly are on the Mason-Dixon Line of recruiting. We can get up north. We can get right there to Ohio and Indiana and Illinois. We gotta make sure we do a great job up north. But certainly, culturally, we’re very Southern here in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We gotta do a great job in Georgia and Tennessee and Florida and in the surrounding states, obviously, in the South.”

The NCAA has a mandated dead period for recruiting in the Football Bowl Subdivision between Dec. 12-Jan. 11. So while Sanford can’t go full-speed ahead in recruiting his first WKU signing class, the down time does give him time to formulate a plan to strike when the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 12.

“Willie Taggart taught us here at Western Kentucky you gotta recruit, recruit, recruit,” Sanford said. “You gotta work at it. And that’s why we’re standing here today on a double-digit win season, coming off of that – because of recruiting.”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop