Western Michigan had a subpar showing on the field following last year’s Mid-American Conference championship and Cotton Bowl appearance, finishing 6-6 after suffering a series of injuries which ended the Broncos’ chances of earning a bowl bid.
However, less than a month after the season concluded the Broncos have put together what they say is the top recruiting class in MAC history.
Reed de-committed from Penn State following the season. He planned on waiting until February before signing, but was persuaded to attend Western Michigan while taking an official visit Dec. 8-10.
After all, WMU has sent offensive linemen to the NFL in past years. Willie Beavers was a fourth-round pick of the Vikings in 2016, and Taylor Moton was a second-round pick of the Panthers this past April.
Tackle Chukwuma “Chukes” Okorafor just completed his senior season and is expected to be a first-day pick in next April’s NFL Draft. Okorafor had Ohio State, Florida and Iowa trying to persuade him to de-commit from WMU, but inked with the Broncos on signing day several years ago.
“It’s a good group, an unbelievable group, and compared to the last recruiting class when we had 17 days, it was nice to have time to get to know them and recruit them and obviously we had to fight a lot of people for them, but it was worth the fight,” said Tim Lester, who took over as WMU head coach in mid-January after P.J. Fleck left for Minnesota.
“A.J. (Reed) was a guy just down the road and we went and watched him play, but he was committed to Penn State and when that fell apart we got him to come down here and take a visit. He had never been on campus, but then loved the place, loved the academics, hit it off with our players big-time, just had a connection when he got here.
“It’s all about finding the right fit and he felt comfortable here. Chukes (Okorafor) wrote a story the other day, an article about his journey and how he could have played anywhere in the country and fell in love with WMU. The story couldn’t have come out at a better time with A.J. (Reed) deciding where he wanted to play.”
And, Lester is just as excited about defensive ends in 6-foot-3, 230-pound Andre Carter of Detroit Cass Tech and 6-3, 210-pound Ronnie Buford of Chelsea, as well as Belleville cornerbacks Patrick Lupro and Kmare Carey.
“Carter and Buford, those long, athletic bodies are hard to come by, and both those guys didn’t want to go far away and loved the facilities and the town,” Lester said. “The DBs from Belleville, they came to our 7-on-7 camp, so we knew them for a long time and were impressed with them.”
Carter is ranked No. 27 in The News Blue Chip list; Lupro, No. 23; Buford, No. 34; and Carey, No. 39.
“They made my decision a lot easier, knowing my class and the guys that I’m signing with, just getting up there for that official and meeting those guys, it gave me reassurance about signing with Western Michigan,” Carter said of the Dec. 8-10 visit. “We had Antwan Reed, Ronnie from Chelsea, Lee (Payton) from River Rouge, everybody there that made this a historical recruiting class. We went to a hockey game. We had a lot of fun.”
Lester also has multiple tight ends in this group, including Payton (No. 41) and Anthony Torres from Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn.
“He was a guy who was our No. 1 tight end on the board and he got offered by Iowa and ended up committing there, then de-committed about a month ago and called us,” Lester said of Torres. “He’s big, long and athletic and can run around and make catches, and then we got a wide receiver from Knoxville who is originally from Fort Wayne, DaShon Bussell, a kid who was originally committed to Tennessee, then de-committed. He’s friends with Torres and is fast, really fast. We really like him.”
The Broncos also added a standout running back in Chase Brown of Bradenton, Fla., who has 4.4 speed and rushed for 1,508 yards (98 carries) and 27 touchdowns, getting offers from Central Florida, Syracuse, Indiana, Purdue and Ole Miss.
WESTERN MICHIGAN RECRUITS
Carmel Catholic (IL)
St. Stephen’s (FL)
Knoxville Catholic (TN)
Detroit Cass Tech (MI)
Pattonville Sr. (MO)
Michigan City (IN)
R. Nelson Snider (IN)
William Fremd (IL)
Niles North (IL)
River Rouge (MI)
Naperville Central (IL)
Lakes Community (IL)
Rich Central Campus (IL)