FLORENCE — There is a much different process for recruiting this year for coach Bobby Wallace and the North Alabama football team.
Wallace faced a major rebuilding job a year ago after taking over a team with a depleted roster. He wanted to get away from signing Division I transfers and build the program with high school signees.
That led to the staff signing over 40 prep players last February. Several other freshman walked on in the fall giving UNA 70 total freshmen.
With the majority of the team returning for next season the Lions will not sign nearly as many players this year. The staff, however, is hard at work trying to find the right mix of players to sign.
“Obviously we are being much more selective this year,” Wallace said. “We were pretty much in panic mode last year, although we signed a great class. We don’t have many spots to fill this year.”
Wallace said around 30 players have walked on for the spring semester. After going through last spring with around 65 total players Wallace said the current roster has 132 players.
Among the players that have walked on are former Clay Chalkville quarterback Jacob Thomas, who was the MVP of last year’s North-South game during the All-Star Sports Week. Thomas was a walk-on at Troy last season.
Also walking on is offensive lineman Keith Jones. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Jones is a former starter at Samford.
Former Hazlewood and Muscle Shoals linebacker Jalen Jones, who played the past two seasons at Eastern Kentucky, is also at UNA.
UNA has signed one junior college transfer in Willie Bland, from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. Bland recorded 29 tackles and 7.5 sacks last season.
Wallace said the Lions hope to add one more junior college transfer for the spring.
“We have 24 players back that started at least one game,” Wallace said. “We need help in specific areas, but we can’t sign 30 players this year.”
A few players have left the team for various reasons, including wide receiver Daijon Macklien, linebacker Cedrick Wilcox, defensive lineman Roderick McKinney and offensive lineman Blake Harris.
Wallace said wide receiver Brian Sutherland could have returned for another season, but will instead try to earn a shot in the NFL.
With National Signing Day less than a month away, the coaches are spending most of their time recruiting. The Lions are concentrating on adding offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers, wide receivers and cornerbacks.
“We’re probably looking at signing around 10 high school players,” Wallace said. “It’s a much different situation from last year.”
Wallace said the Lions had a good semester academically in the fall with 28 players making a 3.0 or better GPA.
After signing day on Feb. 6, UNA will turn its attention to spring practice. The Lions will start spring drills Feb. 18 and conclude March 16.
“We have enough players this year that we should have a real spring game,” Wallace said. “Last year we were very limited in what we could do, but we’re very excited about having a full squad this spring.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.