The Monarchs signed 24 players Wednesday, giving them a recruiting class of 31 for next season when added to the seven players who signed in December and are already enrolled for the spring semester.
"I'm proud of the student-athletes who took that leap of faith," head coach Bobby Wilder said at an afternoon news conference to discuss the class.
Indeed, only 14 months removed from the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, the most successful start-up program in NCAA history prepares for a full C-USA schedule and the opportunity to compete for an FBS conference title.
ODU's signing class Wednesday was comprised of 12 defensive players, 10 offensive players and two specialists.
The Monarchs' second FBS recruiting class represents a significant step up from its first, due in no small part to the fact that they are playing a full conference schedule, as well as non-conference games against ACC (N.C. State) and SEC (Vanderbilt) schools.
For what it's worth, ODU's recruiting class is rated second in C-USA by 24/7 sports, behind last year's league runner-up, Marshall — a remarkable accomplishment, Wilder said, given that the Monarchs are in only their second year as an FBS program and first as a full, competing member.
"When I look at this class," Wilder said, "the No. 1 thing I think of is athleticism. This is a tremendous group of athletes. The overall speed of this class, this is the fastest class we've ever recruited."
ODU's class is dotted with 3-star recruits, notably safety Christian Byrum from Tallwood High in Virginia Beach, quarterback Shuler Bentley from South Carolina, running back Ray Lawry and wide receiver Marques Little, both from New Jersey.
Byrum had recruiting interest from ACC schools Duke, Boston College and N.C. State, as well as Wisconsin. Bentley, the two-time South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year at Byrnes High in Duncan, S.C., threw for 5,000 yards and 71 touchdowns last season and is projected to be a worthy successor to ODU yardage machine Taylor Heinicke. He rejected late recruiting pushes from East Carolina and Cincinnati and made good on the commitment he gave ODU last May.
Wilder expects the junior college transfer linebackers already enrolled to make an immediate impact. Several of the freshmen offensive skill players and defensive backs may earn playing time as well. The Monarchs recruited bulk along the defensive line, a glaring area of need for a group that gave up 34 points and 452 yards per game, often because it was outmanned up front.
Most of ODU's signees Wednesday committed to the program months ago, which Wilder viewed as significant on multiple levels. The staff identified prospects interested in what ODU offered, and in turn the players honored their commitments and weren't swayed by other offers. He said that the amount of time that recruits have had to communicate and bond gives the group a chance to be special.
That Byrum and Quintin Reynolds, a wide receiver from Nokesville, rejected offers from Bowl Championship Series league schools represents a big step for the program and can serve as an example to future recruits.
"We've lost more battles than we've won" with BCS schools, Wilder said. "But it's good to get to BCS-level schools."
Wilder said it will take time for top-tier prospects to choose ODU over marquee programs, "but I feel like with what's happened this year, we've turned a significant corner."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.
Daniel Appouh, DE, 6-4, 230, Germantown, Md., Seneca Valley
Poncho Barnwell, DE, 6-4, 260, Rochester, N.Y., East/Nassau CC
Shuler Bentley, QB, 6-1, 200, Duncan, S.C., Byrnes