WISE - - Head Football Coach Dane Damron announced the signing of 28 student-athletes to the UVa-Wise program on National Signing Day. The group includes 17 from Virginia, with seven coming from Tennessee. The most highly recruited program was Greenville High School in Greeneville, Tenn. Tommy Taylor along with Jaevon and Jordan Gillespie signed national letters of intent today after aiding the Green Devils to consecutive state titles.
"Overall, I'm pleased with this class, we were able to fill a lot of needs," remarked Damron who is entering his fourth year at the helm of the program. "We did a great job in the Commonwealth by signing 17 from our state; while Virginia will always be our top priority, our coaches did a great job expanding our footprint into Tennessee and Georgia."
Three quarterbacks inked their name with UVa-Wise Wednesday as Lendon Redwine (Kingsport, Tenn/Dobyns-Bennett H.S.) along with Jalen Jackson (Roanoke, Va./Northside H.S.) and Houston Thacker (Big Stone Gap, Va./John I. Burton H.S.) committed to playing collegiately for the Highland Cavaliers.
"Lendon is a classic passer with a prototypical body; he has a big arm and the presence to move throughout the pocket to give himself some time," Damron stated shortly after Redwine's signing. "Don't let his big frame fool you, he has the ability to run once he vacates the pocket."
Standing at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Redwine was rated the No. 4 quarterback in the state of Tennessee. Serving as team captain for the Indians as a senior, the signal caller earned All-Region 6A accolades before being named Most Valuable Player of the Tennessee - Virginia All-Star Game and ESPN Tri-Cities Offensive Player of the Year.
Jackson earned second-team all-state, first-team all-region and first-team all-district honors as a senior while playing for Head Coach Scott Fisher. The six foot, 190 pound Jackson earned 2018 Crunch Offensive Player of the Year honors thanks to his arm and his legs.
"Jalen fits the new age modern quarterback mold with his escape ability, the ability to operate on the run and the ability to get the ball out fast and on time," Damron stated. "He is a quarterback first with the ability to run, we are excited to see how he develops in our offense."
Thacker led John I. Burton High School to back-to-back appearances in the Region D title game while earning all-district acclaim playing for Head Coach Jimbo Adams. The 6-foot-3, 165-pound quarterback also starred for his high school basketball team.
"Houston is a natural thrower, he has loads of raw ability but his competitive edge is what sets him apart," Damron said about the Wise County native. "Being a local product, this red jersey means something to him and with his grinder mentality the sky is the limit."
Jahlil Jefferson (Knoxville, Tenn./Webb School) was signed as an athlete. The 5-foot-8, 170-pounder has game changing abilities according to his soon to be head coach.
"Jahlil has track speed that translates to the football field," an excited Damron proclaimed. "He's a guy that can take it the distance if he gets a crease."
Two specialists were signed on signing day, including local product Drew Vermillion (Gate City, Va./Gate City H.S.).
The Mountain 7 Punter of the Year, Vermillion comes from a UVa-Wise family, his father Scotty netted more than 1,200 points over a four-year career on the hardwood. The younger Vermillion also earned second-team all-region status following his final prep season.
"Drew has a strong leg and has shown ability to directional punt," Damron mentioned. "He's a good athlete which will allow us to get creative in the punting game."
Chase Droog (Lynchburg, Va./Rustburg H.S.) is a strong legged kicker known for his range and kickoff ability per Damron.
"Chase has a strong leg and an ability to make field goals from deep, we are excited to see him compete this fall."
Eight defensive backs comprise the group of 28 as Jordan Gillespie, Mykael Anderson (Chesterfield, Va./LC Byrd H.S.), Patrick Taylor (Richmond, Va./Douglas S. Freeman H.S.), D'Aron Colbert (Culpeper, Va./Culpeper County H.S.), Roderick Lewis, Jr. (Knoxville, Tenn./Webb School), Capone Hoffman (Orange, Va./Culpeper County H.S.), Noah Procter (Gainesville, Va./Eastern View H.S.) and Malcom Gallagher (Savannah, Ga./Centennial H.S.) all signed with the college.
Gillespie used his 5-foot-11, 165-pound frame to earn all-region honorable mention honors as senior last fall.
"A fluid athlete with good length and toughness," Damron stated when asked about the signee. "His ball skills will be a plus for us at free safety."
A two-way player in high school, the 5-foot-10, 165 pound Anderson earned all-region acclaim for his skills as a defensive back while also leading LC Byrd High School in receiving yards under the direction of UVa-Wise alumnus Troy Taylor.
"He is an extremely explosive cornerback from the capital city, he has smooth feet, transitions well and plays with toughness," remarked Damron. "He has the ability to play press coverage to the field or the slot."
Taylor earned first-team all-metro and first-team all-region honors while playing for coach Mike Henderson.
"Taylor should be able to compete at any spot in the secondary," Damron stated when asked about how Taylor projects at the collegiate level. "He excels in playing press man coverage and has the ability to be a threat for us in the return game as well."
Colbert earned second-team all-state acclaim to go with first-team all-region and first-team all-district honors as a senior. A two-way player, the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder was also named Regional Offensive Player of the Year.
"D'Aron provides great versatility in the secondary as he can play any position," Damron stated about the former Culpeper standout. "Simply put, he's just a long, fluid athlete."
The 5-foot-10, 160 pound Lewis was a three-time first-team all-region performer playing for coach Daivd Meske at the Webb School.
"Roderick will be right at home playing press to the field or in the slot," Damron said when asked about Lewis. "He's very smooth and is good with change of direction."
Hoffman earned first-team all-region acclaim as a defensive back and as a receiver at Culpeper. The 6-foot-2, 175 pound signee projects to cover outside receivers.
"He's long and fast with a good wingspan," Damron excitedly stated about Hoffman. "He will do a great job matching up against outside receivers into the boundary or playing strong safety."
Procter played both receiver and defensive back in high school. The 5-foot-11, 167-pounder earned honorable mention all-region at Eastern View High School.
"Noah is very fast and explosive," Procter's new head coach stated. "He will be right at home playing man-to-man coverage for us."
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Gallagher excelled on the field and in the classroom as well at Centennial High School. The future Cav earned All-Region for his football play while being the Scholastic Award Winner for his work in the classroom.
"Malcom plays with a chip on his shoulder and his game should translate well to the collegiate level," Damron proclaimed. "He's a tough, competitive defensive back who performs well in man coverage."
Three wide receivers signed on signing day as 6-foot-6 Mark Carter (Zion Crossroads, Va./Louisa County H.S.), 6-foot-3 J.J. McNeil, III (Montross, Va./Washington & Lee H.S.) and 6-foot-2 Kadarius Singleton (Hopewell, Va./Hopewell H.S.) pledged their commitment on signing day.
"He's a very long outside receiver that has the ability to jump over you and run by you," Damron stated when asked about Singleton's athleticism.
"McNeill will be a very versatile weapon for us," Damron mentioned when speaking of the new receivers. "He has a strong desire to catch the football."
Singleton is also a track star which could pay dividends for his collegiate gridiron career.
"He's very explosive, Kadarius has a 39-inch vertical jump and a ten-foot-6 broad jump," stated the UVa-Wise coach. "You pair that with his ball skills and he's a matchup nightmare."
Three running backs, Jaevon Gillespie, Bryson Trigg (Cumming, Ga./North Forysth H.S.) and Daquandre Taylor (Charlottesville, Va./Albermarle H.S.) will be joining the Cavs in the fall.
A 5-foot-9, 190 pound all-conference performer, Gillespie can also catch the ball out of the backfield.
"He's an elusive runner that makes guys miss with a great burst," Damron recalled after giving his first impression of the back. "He also brings a great ability in the passing game."
The 6-foot, 170 pound Trigg earned the Raider Pride Award while playing for coach Robert Craft at North Forsyth High School.
"A one cut runner who has the speed to break a long one," Damron surmised when asked about Trigg. "He shows good vision and patience."
Taylor is a 6-foot-1, 225 fullback that should provide options for UVa-Wise the program has not had in recent years.
"He can do a lot of things for us and can create matchup problems," said Damron when speaking of the fullback. "Daquandre gives us a dimension we have lacked."
Six-foot-3, 200 pound tight end Aaron Watterson (Kingsport, Tenn./Sullivan South H.S.) was the lone tight end signed on signing day.
Rated by TNRankings.com as the No. 6 tight end in the state, he participated in the 2018 FCA East/West Tennessee - Virginia All-Star Game in 2018.
"Aaron has shown the ability to play attached on the line of scrimmage or split out," Damron mentioned. "He has a high ceiling and gives us the ability to not have to sub personnel."
Two defensive lineman, 6-foot-2, 310 pound Bramon Lane (Stafford, Va./North Stafford H.S.) and 6-foot-2, 250 pound Zac Baloga (Dawsonville, Ga./Dawson County H.S.) will be joining the program.
A second-team all-state selection, Lane also garnered first-team all-region and first-team all-district status under coach Joe Mangano.
"We have added a great run stopper with Bramon," Damron stated when asked about the defensive tackle's strongest attribute. "We are glad to have him as part of our electrifying defense."
An all-state defensive end last fall, Baloga also earned all-region honors for coach Sid Maxwell at Dawson County.
"Zac is a big-time defensive lineman that brings toughness and energy to a young defensive front," Damron stated. "He transitions from run to pass well."
A pair of linebackers in Travonte Jones (Hopewell, Va./Hopewell H.S.) and transfer Drew O'Bryan (Ashland, Ky./ASA J.C.) are joining the Cavs.
The team leader in sacks, the 6-foot-3, 220 pound Jones earned second-team all-region honors as a senior.
"A good athlete that is new to the sport, he has tremendous upside and the ability to develop into a great linebacker," Damron mentioned about the Hopewell product.
O'Bryan initially signed to play at a NCAA Division I institution out of high school before attending last season at ASA Junior College in Miami.
"Drew is a tremendous addition to our program, he has the ability to change the game from any of the linebacker positions," Damron remarked. "Drew has great size and range which will be an asset to our team."
The final three signees were offensive lineman Tommy Taylor, Justin Meade (Richmond, Va./Tucker H.S.) and Demarkus Dancey (Chesterfield, Va./LC Byrd H.S.)
An all-region selection, the 6-foot-3, 265 pound Taylor also earned all-county recognition to go with his pair of state championship rings during his prep career.
"Tommy is a big offensive tackle that comes from a great program," coach responded when asked about Taylor. "He can also play multiple positions across the offensive line."
The 6-foot-1, 280 pound Meade earned honorable mention all-metro region honors for his play in 2017.
"Justin shows good mobility and plays with a physical edge," Damron said. "We believe he has the ability to play any of the three interior positions on the offensive line."
Dancey, a 6-foot-3, 270-pounder, earned second-team all-region honors this past fall.
"Demarkus is a solid offensive lineman that brings size and length to the interior of the line," Damron remarked. "He shows good mobility and physicality at the point of attack."
UVa-Wise recently completed its final season in the Mountain East Conference, the college will be moving to the South Atlantic Conference beginning in 2019.