Due mostly to early commitments, and a very aggressive and new coaching staff, Western Michigan University signed one of the best recruiting classes in the history of the Mid-American Conference.
That same philosophy is part of the reason why Lakeview football standout Donnie Ernsberger will be joining the WMU program in the future, as he committed to the Broncos on Wednesday – passing up on several Division II offers, including Grand Valley State University.
“It’ s been a long process and it feels great to be able to know where I’m going next year and get ready to start a new tradition,” Ernsberger said. “It’s a great relief to know what I’m doing now so I can focus and finish the rest of my high school career.
“I do like the sound of going to a Division I school, but that wasn’t the biggest reason for going there over other schools. I just thought Western was the best fit for me.”
Other local football players committing on National Signing Day included Marshall’s Landry Reynolds, who signed with Siena Heights.
On National Signing Day, WMU signed 25 high school seniors and earned accolades for first-year head coach P.J. Fleck for the top recruiting class in the league. WMU can only give out 25 scholarships in one year, and with all of them taken, the Broncos offered Ernsberger as a grayshirt recruit and the Spartan senior will technically be a part of the 2015 recruiting class in Kalamazoo.
The idea that Fleck is being aggressive and already using a scholarship spot for next year on Ernsberger is in line with his style of recruiting. And a sign of how excited the Broncos are to have Ernsberger, who will come in as a defensive end.
“With the early commitments, 25 scholarships already committed, they came in on Donnie late. But once they did, they loved him,” Lakeview coach Matt Miller said. “Coaches said if they had a spot available this year they would have taken him.
“They aren’t allowed to comment on him, but I can comment on them and I know they are very excited about Donnie and he will be a very good football player at Western.”
Using grayshirts is a way for football programs to recruit more players in a given year than they would be able to otherwise. A program often recruits more than the 25 players it has spots for and if more than 25 players say yes, then that program has to either turn them away, or get creative in finding a way to keep them.
Ernsberger is a good fit for a grayshirt because he came on late in his senior season as a college prospect and he’s under age for his class, only turning 17 in October.
“With Donnie being 17 years old, they see that a greyshirt can work best for him and he can come in with next year’s class and they are excited about that,” Miller said. “I’d be excited about that too, at his age, I wish we had him another year her, too.”
Ernsberger will enroll at WMU for the spring semester next year under a full scholarship from the university.
“I am signing with the 2015 class because they have more scholarships available then. But it will also help me grow into the situation and play with people my age,” Ernsberger said. “They talked to me later in the season saying they wanted to review my tape more. But in the end, they said they liked how hard I work and how dedicated to the sport I am.”
One of the best linebackers at Lakeview in years, Ernsberger dominated the action on defense as he was the backbone of a Spartan defense that held opponents scoreless for the first five games of the year. Ernsberger was a two-way starter, who also was a key part of the offense as a tight end at the start of the year and then a high-producing running back in the second half of the year.
The three-year starter and all-conference player, at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Ernsberger led the team with 103 tackles, including 19 for loss. On offense, starting only five games in the backfield, Ernsberger had 730 yards rushing and 11 TDs.
With Ernsberger helping Lakeview to an undefeated regular season and improving every week, schools like Grand Valley were eager for him to commit. However, the senior waited until just recently to take what WMU was offering.
“It weighed on his family a lot I know. Grand Valley is a great school and they offered a full ride, too. It was a big decision for him and I think he made the right one,” Miller said. “Obviously I am partial, I played and coached there (WMU), but he’s very good and he will help Western the next four years and we will hear his name at Waldo Stadium.”
Reynolds going to Siena Heights
Marshall was able to put up big passing numbers last fall and a huge reason was the play of receiver Landry Reynolds – and that effort caught the eye of several college scouts across the state.
On National Signing Day, Reynolds chose to go with Siena Heights and will enter the NAIA program next fall after a stellar career at Marshall.
“They are trying to build a young program. I think it will be a good experience to be part of a program this is still getting started,” said Reynolds, about Siena Heights, which added football just a few seasons ago. “It’s a competitive league that they are in, a lot of national champions come out of that league, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Reynolds set the single-season receptions record at Marshall as a key element of Marshall’s passing attack. The team’s top receiver, the senior had 55 catches for 903 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Redhawks, who finished the season at 2-7.
Reynolds was a two-year starter for Marshall and earned all-league honors in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division as well as being a special mention All-State honoree.
“Stats are nice to have, and our history is that we always throw the ball, so that helped him get recruited. But no matter what we were doing, he has the ability and that’s what they saw,” said Marshall coach Jim Hendershot. “On film they saw a kid that was making all the catches, making catches that other kids aren’t making.”