KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With three players already signed on the dotted line for Park Hill, The Trojans’ recruiting haul grew to 10 on National Signing Day.
During a ceremony held Wednesday, Feb. 7, Trojans football coach Josh Hood saw players sign with teams with junior colleges, NAIA, NCAA Division II, FCS and FBS programs.
In the early signing period, three Trojans signed with Division I programs — Ronnie Bell at Michigan, Randen Plattner at Kansas State and Devin Haney at Northern Illinois, who graduated early and is already attending classes in Dekalb, Ill.
The senior group played a part in a Class 5 and Class 6 semifinal run for the Trojans.
“We are excited for them and if they do business, they will walk away with a degree,” Hood said. “They will get an opportunity to play. Don’t know where they will end up but we feel they are well prepared for school and athletics to participate at the next level.”
The headliner of the group is quarterback Billy Maples, who chose to sign with Kansas, getting a late offer from the Jayhawks.
The record-setting quarterback drew interest of schools from all levels, which included Memphis, Cincinnati and Iowa State. He had his choices narrowed down to two schools when Kansas came along.
“They really wanted me,” said Maples, a Class 6 all-state quarterback by both the Missouri Football Coaches Association and Missouri Media. “Every visit they were nice and made sure I knew they wanted me there. I liked it a lot.”
He visited Lawrence, Kan., last month and had a chance to take in the school’s basketball game that day against Texas A&M in the SEC vs. Big 12 Showdown.
“It means a lot, it is awesome thinking about achieving my dream,” Maples said. “At the same point, I have to outwork everybody and prove why I’m a D-I quarterback.”
Two days prior to signing day, Maples tweeted out his intentions to play for David Beaty and the Jayhawks. He was one of two quarterbacks KU signed, the other was a junior college transfer.
Had it not been for a phone call from Beaty to Hood, Maples might not have revealed his college choice until signing day. The Trojans coach told a story about a phone call with Beaty, who said he was mad at Maples.
“I asked him what did he do?” Hood told a crowd gathered in the cafeteria.
Hood relayed that Beaty said, “‘Billy is supposed to be excited about this. We are excited. You look at his Twitter and he hasn’t tweeted anything out about KU. Will you get on the phone and tell him to tweet about it, we want people to know.’”
That is when Maples made the pledge official on social media.
Maples, a three-year starter, set a Missouri record with eight first-half touchdown passes in a game during the Trojans 66-35 win against Lee’s Summit on Friday, Aug. 25 this season. The performance landed him an appearance in Sports Illustrated on Oct. 2 – and he finished with a gaudy nine TD tosses. On the season, he threw for 3,130 yards and 41 touchdowns, both school records, while leading Park Hill to the semifinals in its second year in Class 6.
Maples threw for 7,556 yards and 81 touchdowns in his career at Park Hill.
“With all the numbers he put and the awards, it was fun to see where he’d go,” Hood said. “He finally landed on KU. They said the right things at the end. He wants to go to work and he asked for a playbook. He is a blue-collar kid and now he is a blue-and-red-collar kid going to KU.”
Damaney ‘DJ’ Johnson is headed to Southern Illinois in Carbondale, Ill., to play in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“They stuck with me,” Johnson said of picking the Salukis. “They always say go where you are wanted, so I’m going where I’m wanted.”
A Suburban Conference Gold Division honorable mention pick at wide receiver, Johnson will play on the defensive side of the ball for Southern Illinois at either cornerback or safety.
Battling through injuries this season — playing in only five games — Johnson had 14 tackles and five pass defensed.
“That is my domain, you know what I’m saying,” said Johnson of playing the secondary. “That is where I believe I play my best. Wherever you put me, I will give you my best effort.”
Johnson drew interest from schools locally such as Missouri Western, Northwest Missouri State and Washburn, while Division I programs like Nebraska, Illinois, Cincinnati, Iowa and Iowa State kicked the tires at one point. He opened eyes at a camp in Memphis where he was dominating receivers while playing cornerback.
“I didn’t focus on going D-I, I was focused on getting grades and putting 100 percent on the field and working hard in the weight room and whatever team will come, will come. The hype is there for Division I, but I’ve got to put in the work. Making it D-I you still go to work. It is not an easy road and once you make it, if you want to win a spot you got to put in the effort.”
Hood noted that Johnson’s versatility — playing wide receiver and running back — is one reason why Southern Illinois believes getting Johnson is a steal.
Jhalen Turner and Brighton Ramirez each only played one year for the Trojans after transferring into the school district but both made an impact.
Ramirez signed with Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa, while Turner will stay in-state and play for Division II Lincoln.
Ramirez earned first-team accolades across the board from conference, district and all-state from both the coaches and media. Ramirez had 142 tackles — second on the team — including two games of 18 tackles each. He had 36 tackles for loss, recorded seven sacks and forced four fumbles.
Ramirez became a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the top lineman/linebacker in big schools from the Kansas City metro area.
“They are excited,” Hood said of Iowa Western landing Ramirez. “They got a kid that is one of the more decorated in the state of Missouri. They are fired up to work with Brighton the next two years. We are fired up to see what he will be. The sky is the limit. We will have another signing day in a year or two for him. This is a great start for his future.”
Brighton also received an offer from Independence (Kan.) Community College but without playing his junior year he didn’t get on the radar of many schools. He will have a chance to join a D-I school later following in the footsteps of his older brother Nick, a Kansas State signee in 2013 from Lee’s Summit West.
Turner had 72 tackles — 12 tackles for loss — four sacks and 15 quarterback hurries from his defensive spot line.
“He would wreak havoc on offenses,” Hood said. “I put together some presentations this week and it was great for me to reflect on how great that football team was and watching the defense and things we did and how dominate we were and Jhalen was a big part of it.
“The guys at Lincoln are really excited. They are getting a steal and Coach (Phil) Pitts and the staff are doing a reclamation project at Lincoln and glad to get him.”
Park Hill will also have a trio headed to Atchison, Kan., to play for Larry Wilcox and Benedictine College.
Jarrett Ross, TJ Ross and Josh Nuttall will join an NAIA program and still be able to wear black and red.
Jarrett Ross racked up 114 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered two this year from his linebacker spot. He finished his career with 215 tackles and earned all-conference and all-district honors this past fall.
If it wasn’t for Maples, Jarrett Ross might not have played football.
“I was a basketball player and he convinced me to come play and I have loved every season,” said Jarrett Ross, who will be an education major at BC.
Nuttall was a first-team all-conference pick and TJ Ross earned honorable mention notice. They paved the way for an offense that averaged 33 points per game, while averaging 243 yards passing and 182 yards on the ground this past fall.
Hood praised the work ethic of the Ravens signees.
“He has done a wonderful job of recruiting this year and in years past,” Hood said of Wilcox.