(STATS) - Developing one of the nation's top rushing attacks has turned The Citadel from a middling program into a Southern Conference power. It's possible the ground game turns even more dangerous with the size - and a star runner - coming on board.
A trio of 295-pound offensive linemen is included among coach Chris Thompson's recruiting class, as is one of the best high school running backs in The Citadel's home state of South Carolina in Malik Brooks.
"If you want to be a team that's gonna run the ball and stop the run which is what we always preach, we need to push people around and we can't get pushed around," said Thompson, who also landed a pair of 300-pound defensive linemen. "So we gotta make sure we have those body types and that's what we really aimed for."
The Bulldogs won the SoCon title in 2016 behind a rushing offense which led the FCS with 348.2 yards per game, a slight improvement from a year earlier when they ranked second en route to ending the program's 13-year playoff drought. Surprisingly, they did it with an offensive line which wasn't particularly imposing, with not one regular starter topping 280 pounds.
That could soon change with the arrival of Haden Haas (Texas) and Jon Barrett Lewis (North Carolina), who were both all-state performers in high school. They're both listed at 295 pounds along with fellow recruit Jonathan Cole.
They may all end up blocking for Brooks, a two-time Lakelands Player of the Year who rushed for more than 4,000 yards and scored 65 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Thompson's newcomers on the other side of the ball include highly touted linebacker Aaron Brawley, who starred at powerhouse Grayson High School in Georgia, as well as 310-pound lineman John Wesley Whiteside and 302-pounder Dalton Owens.
"I think for us, it's gonna be a matter of winning games in the trenches," Thompson said.
The Citadel 2017 Signing Class
Jalen Barr, DB, 6-0, 185, Lake City, S.C. (Lake City)
Brandon Berry, B-Back, 5-11, 227, Crawfordville, Fla. (Wakulla)
Lane Botkin, DB, 6-0, 195, Columbia, S.C. (A.C. Flora)
Aaron Brawley, LB/DL, 6-2, 215, Loganville, Ga. (Grayson)
Malik Brooks, B-Back, 6-0, 206, Saluda, S.C. (Saluda)
Noah Cannon, P, 6-2, 190, Rabun Gap, Ga. (Rabun County)
Jonathan Cole, OL, 6-1, 295, Fuquay-Varina, N.C. (Fuquay-Varina)
Willie Eubanks III, LB, 6-2, 215, Augusta, Ga. (Laney)
Sean-Thomas Faulkner, DB, 5-11, 180, Easley, S.C. (Easley)
KD Frederick, DB, 6-0, 170, Rock Hill, S.C. (South Pointe)
JaBauri Garner, DL, 6-2, 290, Florence, Ala. (Florence)
Branden Glick, K, 5-11, 170, Taylors, S.C. (Wade Hampton)
Haden Haas, OL, 6-3, 295, Cuero, Texas (Cuero)
Jay Howard, ATH, 6-1, 180, Lewisburg, Tenn. (Marshall County)
Jon Barrett Lewis, OL, 6-2, 295, Lenoir, N.C. (Hibriten)
Ryan McCarthy, QB, 6-3, 200, Cumming, Ga. (Pinecrest Academy)
Dalton Owens, DL, 6-2, 302, Monroe, Ga. (Prince Avenue Christian)
Keyonte Sessions, A-Back, 5-8, 195, Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Myrtle Beach)
Dante Smith, WR, 5-10, 180, North Charleston, S.C. (Porter-Gaud)
Matthew Taylor, A-Back, 5-11, 190, Johns Creek, Ga. (Johns Creek)
John Wesley Whiteside II, DL, 6-1, 310, Dalton, Ga. (Dalton)
Wally Wilmore, DB, 5-11, 175, York, S.C. (Northwestern)