Recruiting is a year-round endeavor and it’s taking over the holiday season, as the Early Signing Period began on Wednesday. The Cincinnati Bearcats, a program about to embark on its first bowl trip since 2015, has done a great job in adding new talent in the two years Luke Fickell has had a chance to help mold the recruiting strategy. On Wednesday, the 2019 class began to take real shape as the Bearcats signed 14 players, including 13 from the high school ranks and one transfer student. Here’s a rundown of those newly signed Bearcats and how they may fit with the team in the years to come.
Steven Hawthorne, DE
Since the Bearcats are a defense-first team, let’s start on that side of the ball. Hawthorne is a three-star defensive end from Chicago. At 6’4”, 220 pounds, Hawthorne will need to bulk up a bit to play on the line, but having reinforcements in that regard could prove useful as Kimoni Fitz was the primary end this past season and he is a senior. In addition, he could very well be a candidate for the JACK post in UC’s defensive scheme. Hawthorne committed to UC in August and picked the Bearcats over 10 other programs, including Illinois, Nebraska and Washington State. According to 247Sports, he is the No. 23 recruit in the state of Illinois.
Izaiah Ruffin, DE
Like Hawthorne, Ruffin should help provide depth and potential to the defensive line, which has been the strength of the defense this season for the Bearcats. Ruffin is also similar to Hawthorne in that he is a three-star recruit from Illinois. He played his high school ball at Oak Park and River Forest and at 6’6” and 235 pounds, he projects as an imposing force along the line. A top 100 defensive end, Ruffin committed in June and is coming off a season of 3.0 sacks.
Justin Harris, CB
The Bearcats have done a good job recruiting for the secondary recently, with sophomore Coby Bryant becoming a fixture at the top of the depth chart this past season, plus 2018 recruit Arquon Bush making a major breakthrough against East Carolina. Harris will try to follow in that tradition. The Dayton, Ohio product is a three-star recruit and among the top 30 players from the Buckeye State in this year’s class. A June commit, Harris had a fair share of offers from other schools, including Pitt, Syracuse and Iowa State. He can tackle well (73 this past season) and could also be a threat in the return game.
Eric Phillips, DE
The Bearcats have formed a bit of a pipeline through Colerain High School. Following 2018 recruits Ja’Von Hicks and Kyle Bolden, Phillips is continuing the tradition. A Cincinnati-native, Phillips is a three-star defensive end and the No. 70 recruit in Ohio. He could potentially move to the middle of the defensive line with his size (6’3”, 280 pounds). No matter where he ends up, the Bearcats are hoping he continues to be a force up front. He certainly was this past season, with 4.5 sacks for Colerain.
Dorian Holloway, OLB
It’s always nice when the Bearcats sneak into Columbus and take a prospect right out from under Ohio State. While Holloway may not have been on the Buckeyes’ radar, the 6’4”, 190-pound outside linebacker calls Columbus home. He’s a three-star recruit and a potential pass-rushing threat.
Brody Ingle, LB
Ingle is another local prospect, playing for LaSalle in Cincinnati, which is the alma mater of current Bearcat Jarell White. Ingle compiled 60 tackles this past season and was a third-team all-Ohio selection. He doesn’t have the same type of hype surrounding him as White did, but he is a solid three-star addition to the linebacking corps, which will need some depth behind Bryan Wright and White next season.
Ahmad Gardner, CB
Gardner was recruited as a cornerback, but he can play wide receiver as well. A three-star recruit, Gardner was recruited by Mike Mickens, according to 247Sports. The Associated Press named him an all-state defensive back in addition to his work as a wide receiver, giving the Bearcats a versatile prospect to work with. His future is probably just going to be in the secondary, but having a background as a wideout could prove useful all the same.
Jacob Dingle, S
Dingle is the No. 19 recruit out of Kentucky, according to 247Sports. Hailing from Louisville, he is a 6’0”, 185-pound safety who turned down offers from Northwestern, Syracuse, Army and others to come to Cincinnati. An injury forced Dingle to miss time during his senior season at Trinity High School but he was one of the better defenders in the Louisville area during the 2017 season. Plus, his father Nate played for the Bearcats from 1990-93.
Zach Hummel, DE
Hummel is a defender who the Bearcats expect to play in their JACK position, which is currently held down by sophomore Michael Pitts. Hummel was a decorated player at Hilliard Bradley in Hilliard, Ohio and has a knack for bringing ball carriers down. He record 81 total tackles last season, helping to cement his status as a three-star recruit. With some time spent at tight end as well, Hummel can do a lot more than tackle.
Cameron Jones, QB
With Desmond Ridder seemingly set to be the Bearcats’ starting quarterback for the next three seasons, it may seem odd to go after signal callers, but since Hayden Moore is on the way out, there needs to be competition behind the starter. Jones is one of the better recruits in this class, with Rivals ranking him a four-star prospect. A 6’8”, 255-pound thrower, Jones is among the top 30 quarterbacks in the 2019 class after he threw for 2,714 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2018 for Fredrick Douglass High School in Lexington, Kentucky.
Michael Lindauer, QB
Ben Bryant projects as the backup to Ridder next season, but the Bearcats are clearly preparing for any possibility by adding two signal callers to the roster. Lindauer is comfortable in the pocket and can really sling it. He piled up more than 10,000 passing yards and 120 touchdowns during his high school career at Reitz Memorial in Evansville, Indiana. He was also an all-state punter, but I don’t think James Smith has anything to be worried about.
Tre Tucker, WR
The Bearcats will need to replace at least one wide receiver next year, as Kahlil Lewis is in the midst of his final season. Tucker won’t come in and immediately become the No. 1 target that Lewis is, but he has a lot of speed and could really be a vertical threat down the line. The 5’11”, 175-pound native of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio is a three-star recruit who did a little bit of everything in high school, rushing for 2,417 yards and adding 1,922 as a receiver. Much like Jayshon Jackson was recruited as a running back and converted to wide receiver, Tucker could be a versatile weapon for the UC offense.
Ja’Quan Sheppard, WR
The Bearcats may have lost to Temple on the field this season, but they got a win against the Owls in recruiting with Sheppard. The three-star recruit from Florida originally committed to Temple last November, but he reversed that decision when he signed his letter of intent on Wednesday.
James Hudson, OL
The Early Signing Period did not feature much help for the offensive line, but Hudson made sure the Bearcats didn’t go completely empty. A transfer student from Michigan, the 6’5”, 255-pound lineman is originally from Toledo, Ohio and was a four-star defensive end prospect when he signed with the Wolverines. He redshirted in 2017 and then played in three games this past season.
Following Wednesday’s action, the Bearcats now have the No. 7 2019 recruiting class in the American Athletic Conference and the No. 74 class in the country. For a program that wound up with its league’s No. 1 class a year ago, that is quite a precipitous fall. However, there’s no need to panic. While the Early Signing Period is certainly a major milestone during recruiting season, it is not the end of it either, with National Signing Day still scheduled for Feb. 6, 2019.