Cincinnati adds 20-member recruiting class

CINCINNATI -- Luke Fickell is pretty sure that the University of Cincinnati 2022 football recruiting class won’t immediately step in and fill the shoes left by the 32-member senior class, but the fifth-year Bearcats coach wouldn’t be surprised if some of the 20 newcomers don’t contribute sooner rather than later.

“This is the way to build a program,” Fickell said Wednesday. “This is the way you continue to grow a program. That’s not going to change. We’re excited. We’re happy with this class. Eight of the guys and the one transfer will be here on January 10 in time for workouts and spring football. That will be a big advantage to see if they can help us early on.

“If you look at building classes, you have to look way out. We had a large senior class to manage, and that was something that was very unique. We’re losing a lot of seniors, but this group could be the difference for a two-year period.”

Cincinnati announced its latest recruiting class on Wednesday, the first day high school seniors could sign national letters-of-intent.

“This is a very busy day,” said Fickell, who mixed wrapping up recruiting with helping the 13-0 Bearcats prepare for the New Year’s Eve Cotton Bowl matchup against Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal. “I’m not sure if we’ve always done it like this. Usually, you don’t have a practice day on national signing day. We had a lot of things wrapped up by 7:20 or 7:30 this morning.”

Cincinnati, ranked fourth in the Associated Press Top 25 college football poll and fourth in the CFP ratings, signed seven defensive backs, three wide receivers and three offensive linemen, along with two each of defensive tackles and defensive ends. What Fickell seemed to be more happy about was the number of recruits that hail from schools within the talent-rich 300-mile radius in which the Bearcats concentrate their recruiting efforts

“We always want to be 75 percent or so within the 300-mile radius,” he said.

Among the recruits who fit into that parameter is 6-foot-3, 305-pound defensive tackle Derrick Shepard from Alter High School. Some recruiting analysts had Shepard ranked as one of Ohio’s top 15 prospects and one of the nation’s tip 25 defensive line prospects. He reportedly chose Cincinnati over Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan – which will meet Georgia in the other CFP semifinal.

Another highly regarded recruit from within the 300-mile radius is 6-3, 205-pound quarterback Luther Richesson from Nashville, Tenn., Lipscomb Academy. Besides leading his team to a Tennessee state championship as a senior and throwing for 60 touchdowns with just nine interceptions over his final two high school seasons, Richesson brings an impressive pedigree to Cincinnati, having played in high school for Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer. Richesson’s father, Luke, also won a Super Bowl with Denver and was a long-time NFL strength coach. His mother, Anita, was an Olympic swimmer.

“Luther’s unique,” Fickell said. “I just did an interview with somebody, and that was the first question. I wish he was here in the spring, but where he comes from, he’ll have an opportunity to come in and compete. He’s mature beyond his years. He’s been around a lot. He’s a highly intelligent kid. I think he’ll be able to walk in the door and pick things up fast. He’s ready to compete.”

Cincinnati’s recruiting class was ranked 38th in the country and first in the American Athletic Conferece by 247sports.com early Wednesday evening. Somebody wondered if the Bearcats’ impending move to the Big 12 might’ve helped recruiting.

“I don’t know if it changed anything on our end,” he said. “We’re always looking for the best players. Did it open some hurdles and knock down some hurdles? No doubt. It did give us a little more strength. It gives us a little more recognition – another bullet in the chamber.”

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