Rhule caps off first class as Owls surge forward
Temple coach Matt Rhule feverishly worked the phones until the last possible minute Wednesday morning, checking - and double-checking - that everyone who committed to the Owls would be signing a national letter of intent at some point in the day.
Crossing the T's. And dotting the I's.
Those are the kind of things a rookie coach has to worry about, and it explains why an exhausted Rhule spoke in a raspy voice when he announced the signing of 23 incoming freshmen on national signing day at Temple's practice facility.
The Owls, intent on continuing to build a brand in their city as well as their conference, stayed close to home, signing 10 players each from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
''This is really a critical class for us,'' Rhule said. ''We'll have 23 seniors that will be playing their final year here this fall. As those guys come through this final year, and I think we have 13 seniors behind them, this class will come and really set the tone not just for next year, but two and three years down the line in terms what kind of football program we'll have.''
Rhule inherited a tough situation. He entered the recruiting process late after replacing former Temple coach Steve Addazio. Several players, though, who previously committed to Temple before Addazio left for Boston College, decided to stick with Temple. Among them are linebacker Jarred Alwan and quarterback P.J. Walker.
Rhule stressed the importance of Ed Foley, Tyree Foreman and Francis Brown, coaching holdovers from Addazio's staff, who were key cogs in the process.
''It was absolutely hard. We started recruiting the 2014 class when we started the 2013 class,'' Rhule said. ''I think it was difficult in that regard. I believe Temple sells itself. Once people get here, that's the biggest thing, they see what's here and they appreciate the opportunity. (Those coaches) held those guys together. We had to re-recruit a lot of kids. I was recruiting until this morning.
Rhule concentrated on size and height, as well as bolstering the offensive and defensive lines as he prepared for his first season in the Big East. He did so, by adding players like Semaj Reed (6-foot-7, 270 pounds), Adrian Sullivan (6-5, 270) and Leon Johnson (6-6, 300).
''I want that 6-foot-6, offensive tackle length,'' Rhule said. ''That's what you need at those position. We found that, not just height, but arm length and hand length. They're going to be able to keep people off the quarterback.''
Rhule wants to establish a foothold in western Pennsylvania area, as well, and Matt Barone, a 6-3, 280-pound offensive lineman, Tyler Haddock, a 6-2, 290-pound defensive lineman, and Todd Jeter, a 6-foot, 170-pound cornerback, are all Pittsburgh-area products who help that cause.
''We're going to come out and recruit those areas,'' he said.
New Jersey is also very important, and Rhule, who was on staff with the New York Giants last season, has high hopes for Walker, out of Elizabeth (N.J.) High.
''We're excited about P.J. Walker. He was down by eight points in the state championship on his own two-yard line and went down and won the game, and to me, that speaks volumes,'' Rhule said. ''You want someone that everyone on the team follows, and he'll have to prove it at this level, but he stayed with us and he has great mechanics. The previous staff identified him, saw his skillset and saw the intangibles. And the kid stuck by Temple.''
The Owls finished 4-7 last season.