The first thing P.J. Fleck wanted was character.
“High-character men,” he said. “Winners on the field, in the classroom and in society. I think we accomplished that.”
But the second-year Western Michigan football coach accomplished much more with his 2014 recruiting class, one that will go down as the highest-ranked in Mid-American Conference history.
“We started with people who believed in us, who fit us, and it didn’t matter what star you were ranked,” Fleck said. “We just found the best players that fit us.”
And the 27-man class — ranked No. 60 nationally by rivals.com — started with linebacker Robert Spillane from Oak Park, Ill.
“You need the first,” Fleck said. “You need that bell cow, that guy that can go out and recruit for you.”
And Spillane and quarterback Chance Stewart, both players who had opportunities to play at bigger programs, did just that.
“Those guys really stuck out to me for being able to glue this thing together,” Fleck said, noting Spillane’s desire to boost the Broncos’ brand. “He knew the responsibility that, if I do commit here, I can bring the type of players that I want to surround myself with.”
One of those players was 6-foot-5, 275-pound Southfield offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor, who withstood late temptation to play at a bigger school with reported scholarship offers from Oklahoma, Ohio State and Nebraska, to stay with Fleck and WMU.
“Everybody gets picked off in the MAC late, and he still stayed committed,” Fleck said.
And recently, the Broncos picked up a commitment from former Michigan State receiver receiver Jay Harris, whose MSU scholarship was pulled after he decided to pursue a rap career.
Harris, who’s from Exton, Pa., but played last season at East Coast Prep in Great Barrington, Mass., was familiar with Fleck from his time as a Rutgers assistant.
“Every young man makes a mistake sooner or later,” Fleck said. “We all make mistakes. He didn’t go out and shoot anybody. He made a decision that was best for him that he thought he wanted to go into. And he went to go explore that avenue, and it wasn’t what he wanted and he was given one more chance.”
Football players announcing plans to attend Western Michigan, with position, height, weight and school:
Lucas Bezerra, te, 6-4, 242, Troy Athens.
Jordan Billingslea, wr, 5-8, 170, Southfield
Jamauri Bogan, rb, 5-8, 170, Union, N.J.
Nathan Braster, dl, 6-5, 252, South Side, Ft. Wayne, Ind.
Asantay Brown, ath, 6-0, 190, Muskegon Mona Shores.
Deontae Brown, db, 6-1, 200, Mount Carmel, Chicago
Curtis Doyle, ol, 6-5, 304, Alma
Leo Ekwoge, rb, 5-11, 205, Good Counsel, Olney, Md.
Ken Finley Jr., dl, 6-3, 283, Muskegon.
Jarvion Franklin, rb, 6-0, 220, Tinley Park, Ill.
Jay Harris, wr, 5-11, 180, East Coast Prep, Exton, Pa.
Jakevin Jackson, lb, 6-3, 230, Georgia Military College, Milledgeville, Ga.
Lonnie Johnson, wr, 6-3, 184, West Side, Merrillville, Ind.
Elliot Jordan, ol, 6-7, 265, East Kentwood
Nick Matich, dl, 6-2, 300, Clarkston
Chris McDaniel, te, 6-4, 231, Detroit Cass Tech
Zach Novoselsky, ol, 6-5, 295, Adlai E. Stevenson, Lincolnshire, Ill.
Chukwuma Okorafor, ol, 6-5, 275, Southfield
Wyatt Pfeifer, ls, 6-2, 245, Buckeye Valley, Ohio
Del’Shawn Phillips, lb, 6-1, 217, Detroit Cass Tech
Javonte Seabury, wr, 5-9, 170, Timber Creek, Orlando
Alon Sims, ath, 6-2, 177, Royal Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Robert Spillane, lb, 6-2, 225, Fenwick, Oak Park, Ill.
Chance Stewart, qb, 6-5, 220, Sturgis
Antione Stone, db, 5-11, 190, Bedford, Ohio
Jason Sylva, lb, 6-3, 245, Dean College, Franklin, Mass.
Jordan Van Dort, ol, 6-5, 280, Zeeland West