After being hired by the University of Memphis on Dec. 8, Justin Fuente had about 30 days left on the NCAA recruiting calendar to assemble a somewhat respectable 2012 class.
That was the first, stark truth he was faced with upon accepting the job. So what, then, was he going to do with those valuable days?
On top of already having a limited amount of time to recruit, Fuente and his staff were forced to carefully weave through multitudes of dead periods and quiet periods. But, as he dissected the 27-man class he signed on Wednesday, Fuente wasn’t asking for anyone’s sympathy.
“It’s different and difficult (with a shortened schedule), but those are also excuses,” Fuente said. “That was the circumstance we were dealt, so we went and hit the ground running. We tried to address the mid-term signing class before the Christmas break, and we addressed the freshmen and May graduate junior college guys after the Christmas break, and we did it as hard as we could.”
With an incisive and efficient approach, Fuente signed seven mid-year enrollees before Christmas, all of whom could be reasonably expected to contribute next season. Fuente landed Texas Tech transfer quarterback Jacob Karam, who will almost certainly enter spring practice at the top of the depth chart, along with beefy offensive lineman Markeith Minnick and Antonio Foster.
In the high school ranks, Fuente and his staff poached several recruits from the fertile football states of Texas and Florida. He reeled in more than half a dozen prospects from Memphis, including three-star Melrose quarterback Will Gross.
The seven native Memphians were the most to sign with the Tigers in a single class since 2004.
“Obviously, I’m thrilled about (the local signees’) work ethic and their talent level,” Fuente said. “But, most importantly, I’m excited that they’re willing to take on this challenge too. They’re ready to stay at their hometown school and do something for their city, and really make Memphis proud. I’m absolutely fired up about that.”
To further incorporate his own offensive philosophy, Fuente signed four tight ends in the 2012 class. Kerwin Harrison, a 3-star tight end from Kathleen Senior (Lakeland, Fla.), signed with the Tigers over Louisville, South Florida, and Rutgers.
Fuente said the 2012 crop of tight ends will help the numbers at the position, but that he’ll still need to sign more in the coming classes.
“I envision down the road that we use multiple tight ends in multiple sets,” Fuente said. “It’s a big part of the future of what we’ll do offensively. I don’t know how much of it we’ll get to use immediately because of the sheer numbers. Whether those guys are ready to play immediately or not, I’m not sure. (The tight end position) is a big part of the plans for the future.”
Scout.com ranks Fuente’s inaugural recruiting class at Memphis ranks sixth in Conference USA and 84th overall.
Fuente addressed several key team needs by signing six defensive backs and six offensive linemen. He also snagged Trinity Christian Academy quarterback (Deltona, Fla.) Paxton Lynch, who was getting serious attention from Florida.
While the class isn’t particularly remarkable, it is one that can be possibly built upon in the coming years — and Fuente is happy with that.
“I think we did a great job,” he said. “The proof will be in the years to come, but it is what it is and you don’t pick your circumstances. You just make the best of them, and we did. We’ll hit the ground running again this year for next year’s class.”
University of Memphis' 2012 recruting class