The Western Mustangs football team is over three months removed from capping off a perfect 2017 campaign with a national championship. On Thursday night at The Kirkley Centre, the program officially kicked off the next chapter in Mustangs football history as they introduced most of their 2018 recruiting class.
It's a day that head coach Greg Marshall often describes as one of the most important in the season. As the Mustangs welcomed over 30 football players to the program, the next step to another national championship has officially been taken.
The Mustangs began recruiting later than usual this season due to their Vanier Cup run. While the exposure of winning a championship is valuable, Marshall admits that his staff did have some catching up to do.
"Obviously the exposure is great," says Marshall. "But while we're in the playoffs, other schools are getting players in for visits and going in to high schools to see kids. So there is a bit of catching up to do with such a deep playoff run."
The Mustangs focus primarily on the men in the trenches with their 2018 class, as the team brings in seven offensive linemen and five defensive linemen.
For a program built on running the football, controlling the line of scrimmage is exceedingly important. The Mustangs' lines dominated throughout the 2017 season, stifling opponents' running games while controlling the push on offence. Their 2018 class of linemen is set to continue that tradition of hard-nosed football.
"We’re going to lose a couple of offensive linemen this year and definitely lose a bunch next year, so it’s important to get some depth,” says Marshall. “You can never have enough offensive or defensive linemen. The biggest thing you build your team on is the strength of the offensive and defensive line.”
The Mustangs also stocked up on running backs, as the position could see turnover after next season. The Mustangs believe they found gems in British Columbia power back Derek Best and in Windsor native Jalen Jackson, a player that the Mustangs' coaching staff compare to Alex Taylor, the current star feature back.
The Mustangs' national recruiting brand continued to manifest itself in the signing of several out-of-province standouts. Along with Best, the Mustangs also signed four other British Columbia high school players and poached two Québécois players from the CEGEP system, including receiver Francois Rocheleau.
But the crown jewel of the class may just be London South Collegiate Institute star fullback, Spencer Nicholls, one of the highest rated high school players in the entire country and one of 13 London area players to sign with their hometown program.
"Spencer is hard-nosed, gritty and athletic," says Mustangs offensive line coach and recruiter, Joe Circelli. "He's the kind of guy who will do whatever it takes to accomplish what he wants to accomplish. That's the kind of guy we want in this program."
Greg Marshall also praised Nicholls, who could immediately contend for a spot in the lineup next fall.
"We built our offence around at least one or two fullbacks," says Marshall. "Nicholls is the guy for our offence. We thought he might be the best football player in London. He’s an offensive lineman converted to fullback. For a big strong boy, he can run and catch the ball well."
The Mustangs still have a few players that they hope to recruit in the coming week, but they believe the 2018 recruiting class gives them the best chance at competing for the Yates and Vanier Cups for years to come.