SOUTH KINGSTOWN - Fresh off a breakthrough season, University of Rhode Island football coach Jim Fleming introduced a recruiting class Wednesday that in many ways reflects that season.
Eleven players have made it official with the Rams, two of whom signed in December and nine who inked their letters of intent as part of Wednesday’s National Signing Day festivities.
It’s a small group compared with past classes, a sign that URI doesn’t need - or have room for - the kind of vast influx of talent that led to big classes in the past. Sixty-six players are set to return from last year, including 17 who redshirted last season. The size also gives the coaching staff flexibility to make late additions for key spots.
“It’s some an example that we’ve got a good, solid group in here already,” Fleming said. “We also still have room that we’ve left strategically.”
What the class lacks in quantity, the staff believes is made up in quality, with the Rams pulling in many of their top targets. It was their first recruiting cycle featuring a sales pitch grounded in last season’s reality more than future potential - plus upcoming stadium improvements - and the players listened.
“Fun to go in and talk about first winning season, being ranked nationally, having an opportunity - with a couple of things different in that Maine game - you certainly think we were capable of making the same kind of run,” Fleming said. “There’s a lot to sell. We’re able to finally talk about, this is what’s happening in the stadium rather than this is what we want to try to do with the stadium. The reaction was good. We really did have a very focused group of targets and we achieved our objective on most of them.”
The class features four offensive linemen, three linebackers, two defensive backs, a quarterback and a tight end. They hail from seven states and two countries, as close as Wakefield and as far as Munich, Germany.
South Kingstown High School offensive lineman Montaner Fresilli was the first player to sign in December. While the team features several Rhode Island natives, many were late additions or walk-ons. Fresilli is the first local player announced on signing day in several years.
“This state is full of good, solid football players,” Fleming said. “I don’t know if you look at it like, ‘Here’s a superstar walking through the door.’ But [Fresilli] is a guy that is absolutely thrilled for the opportunity to be here at URI. He’s been that way since we got him in camp as a junior. His family is involved in it. When he have an opportunity to get a guy like that and offer him an opportunity to come play, it’s a win-win. He’s a great player, a great kid and a great ambassador for the program.”
The offensive line crop also includes Kevin Cerruti, Sean Connolly and Dimitrios Gkountoudis. Cerruti and Connolly starred for powerhouse programs in New Jersey, Cerruti at Long Branch and Connolly at Bergen Catholic. Gkountoudis hails from Munich, Germany and played two years of high school football at Clearwater Academy in Florida. He had a scholarship offer from FBS UMass.
The linebacker recruits include mid-year junior-college transfer Andre Blackett, who is already enrolled at URI after spending this past season at Lackawanna College. Jonathan Alvarado will join the Rams from New Jersey power Don Bosco, while Cole Brockwell of Westport, Connecticut, follows in family footsteps. His father, Mark, was an All-Yankee Conference linebacker for URI and is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. His uncle, Kurt Brockwell, also played for the Rams.
Jordan Jones and Antonio Carter II are the defensive backs. Jones comes from Nassau Community College, where he was an All-American in 2017. Carter will head north from Orlando, Florida, where he starred for Oak Ridge High School.
Tight end Brady Roark is another product of a big New Jersey football school, hailing from St. Joseph Regional in Montvale. Quarterback Darius Perrantes will make the cross-country trek from Valley Village, California, a similar journey that his older brother London took to become the starting point guard for the University of Virginia’s basketball team.
Perrantes was the only quarterback offered by the Rams and fits the same mold as JaJuan Lawson, another California native who starred for the Rams this past season.
Three of the incoming Rams will be joining former teammates in Kingston. Three players from Jones’ Nassau squad played for URI last season, along with two more from Blackett’s Lackawanna team. URI also has two players from Alvarado’s Don Bosco.
“We like to know what we’re getting, to know they’ve been coached hard and coached well,” Fleming said. “And obviously it’s our job to continue to develop them. It’s very comforting knowing when you knock on a door and you have a pre-existing relationship. For the kids, once there’s been a trailblazer that comes in from a program, it makes it easier for the second ones and the third ones to come in. We’re thrilled to be able to revisit a number of these spots.”
While letters of intent are in the fold for this group, the recruiting will continue. URI has had success with players like Lawson - who transferred over the summer - and several other late pickups.
“You look at our past successes. We all know that impact JaJuan Lawson made on this football program. I’m not saying it’s just a quarterback who we’ll find because we’ve got good ones in the program,” Fleming said. “But is there a guy out at University of Pittsburgh, a running back who might be able to make a difference for us? Is there a guy who could come in and play right tackle for us, as we’ve done in the past with some grad transfers? We’ve got a number that we’re very comfortable with that we’ll fill with junior college late-outs, or possible transfers. We left some wiggle room there to be able to address and give opportunities to those kinds of kids.”
Several staff changes were announced at the press conference. Alex Folken will take over as Director of Football Operations after a stint at East Carolina, while Pittsburgh graduate assistant Josh Lott is stepping in as defensive line coach for Joe Congilio, who left for Kent State. Offensive line Keegan Kennedy departed for Harvard and a replacement has not yet been named.
Fleming also offered an update on Meade Stadium improvements, which he said are on track.
“Absolutely thrilled that I’m having to deal with an alternate spot for the spring game, if in fact we’re ripping up the grass in Meade, because that thing is full speed ahead,” Fleming said. “I understand everything is right on track and the good people at the University of Rhode Island who are responsible for driving this thing are just clicking things right off. We will, God willing, be playing Delaware under the lights the second week of the season.”