BOONE, N.C. — App State football head coach Shawn Clark and his staff assembled a signing class that ranks among the best among non-autonomous conferences on Wednesday, the first day of December’s early period.
With 19 recruits signing to join the Mountaineers, App State’s total class score ranks No. 2 in the Sun Belt Conference from 247Sports, and the average prospect grade of 82.32 from On3.com is No. 2 in the Sun Belt. It also rates among the top 15 among schools from the American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt as of the end of Wednesday.
Signing day officially began at 7 a.m. local time, although that meant one Tuesday announcement from Boone given the time difference for Australian punter Mitchell Lake. The 18 remaining signees include three defensive ends, three linebackers, three safeties, two cornerbacks, two receivers, two quarterbacks, one running back, one offensive lineman and one tight end.
“We’re very excited about the future of App State Football,” Clark said. “Today’s signing class will help us compete for conference championships and bowl championships over the next four to five years. These are all outstanding young men who come from great families. They’ll represent our program both on and off the field.”
The four-star grade of 90.0 from 247Sports.com and 88.94 composite grade for 6-foot-3 receiver Grant Tucker, the final signee Wednesday and a Charlotte native, is the highest in program history. He’s part of a group of 14 high school prospects and four junior college transfers. FBS transfers heading to Boone will be announced at a later date, once the 2023 spring semester begins.
As of now, there are 11 signees from Wednesday who plan to enroll early and start classes in January.
The recruits in that category are junior college quarterback Joey Aguilar, junior college defensive end Kason Boston, running back Jaylon Calhoun, linebacker Cahari Haynes, defensive end Nate Johnson, Lake, receiver Chris Lawson Jr., quarterback Mason McHugh, defensive end AJ Mebane, junior college safety Jalik Thomas and junior college cornerback Trenton Alan Yowe.
In addition to the one international prospect, App State’s class brings together talent from South Carolina (six signees), Georgia (five), North Carolina (three), Alabama (two), California (one) and Idaho (one). Like Aguilar, Idaho native Mason McHugh is a quarterback who has trained in California.
Additional signees on the offensive side of the ball are tight end Max Drag and offensive lineman Cayden Sweatt. The defensive signees who plan to enroll either this summer or before the fall are linebacker Jayden Bethea, safety Zyeir Gamble, linebacker Ryan McKinnis and cornerback DJ Porter.
“A big thanks to our coaching staff and their families,” Clark said. “The last three weeks were tough on all of us. We were gone every single night trying to get the best class possible. It’s a wonderful, wonderful class. Thank you to Boone and all of App Nation. When we brought kids on campus, you were very hospitable to us. When we see fans out in the community, they talk App State Football, and that’s a positive our recruits talk about.”
Class of 2023 signees
Joey Aguilar — QB, Antioch, Calif. (Diablo Valley C.C.)
Jayden Bethea — LB, Lawrenceville, Ga. (Dacula)
Kason Boston — DE, Birmingham, Ala. (East Mississippi C.C.)
Jaylon Calhoun — RB, Lakeland, Ga. (Lanier County)
Max Drag — TE, Chapin, S.C. (Chapin)
Zyeir Gamble — DB, Sumter, S.C. (Sumter)
Cahari Haynes — LB, Shelby, N.C. (Burns)
Nate Johnson — LB, Gaffney, S.C. (Gaffney)
Mitchell Lake — P, Brisbane, Australia (Saint Peters Lutheran)
Chris Lawson Jr. — WR, Columbia, S.C. (Ridge View)
Mason McHugh — QB, Ferdinand, Idaho (IMG Academy)
Ryan McKinnis — LB, Buford, Ga. (Buford)
AJ Mebane — DE, Durham, N.C. (Southern Durham)
Colton Phares — SAF, Beaufort, S.C. (Beaufort)
DJ Porter — CB, Spartanburg, S.C. (Dorman)
Cayden Sweatt — OL, Bremen, Ga. (Bremen)
Jalik Thomas — SAF, Macon, Ga. (Hutchinson C.C.)
Grant Tucker — WR, Charlotte, N.C. (Charlotte Christian)
Trenton Alan Yowe — CB, Calera, Ala. (Coahoma C.C.)
Joey Aguilar — QB
Antioch, Calif. (Diablo Valley C.C.)
Bio: Early enrollee … Played two seasons at Diablo Valley Community College in central California, northeast of San Francisco … In 2022, completed 126 of 197 passes (64.0 percent) for 1,446 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions in six games … Also rushed 65 times for 358 yards (59.7 yards per game) … Threw for more than 300 yards in two games and at least 242 yards in four of six games … In 10 games in 2021, completed 102 of 182 passes (56.0 percent) for 1,546 yards with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions … Added 261 rushing yards with two scores … In final two prep seasons at Freedom High School, threw for 5,575 yards with 59 touchdowns and 14 interceptions … Threw 32 touchdown passes as a senior, when he passed for 3,074 yards … First-team All-Bay 6 two years in a row … Played for coach Gavin Cribb at Diablo Valley and Zach Sims at Freedom.
Jayden Bethea — LB
Lawrenceville, Ga. (Dacula)
Bio: Made 93 tackles with eight tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles as an all-region performer during his senior year … Earned first-team All-Region 8-AAAAAA and first-team all-county as a junior after making 87 tackles … Also intercepted two passes, recovered three fumbles and scored two defensive touchdowns as a junior … Scored four defensive touchdowns over his junior and senior seasons … Over final two prep seasons, totaled 12 tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hurries, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, three interceptions and four pass breakups … Played for coach Casey Vogt at Dacula … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.
Kason Boston — DE
Birmingham, Ala. (East Mississippi C.C.)
Bio: Early enrollee … In 10 games in 2022, had 38 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks for an East Mississippi Community College team that went 8-3 and won its conference championship … Had 21 tackles, and 2.5 sacks in 2021 for a 9-1 team at East Mississippi … Ranked a top-40 junior college talent in the nation … Standout at Jackson-Olin High School, posting 37 tackles, 13 sacks and 11 more tackles for loss in seven games during the 2020 season … Was rated a top-10 player in the state of Alabama … Played for coach Buddy Stephens at East Mississippi and Tim Vakakes at Jackson-Olin … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.
Jaylon Calhoun — RB
Lakeland, Ga. (Lanier County)
Bio: Early enrollee … Rushed for 1,110 yards and nine touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 420 yards (24.7 average) and four touchdowns in 12 games as a senior at Lanier County … Division II Offensive Player of the Year at the 2-A level as a senior … Totaled more than 2,000 rushing yards and 600 receiving yards with 24 touchdowns over his final three prep seasons … Had five 100-yard rushing games as a senior, highlighted by a 180-yard, three-touchdown effort against Turner County and a 174-yard, three-touchdown showing against Telfair County … Played for coach Kurt Williams as a senior.
Max Drag — TE
Chapin, S.C. (Chapin)
Bio: Selected for South Carolina’s North-South All-Star game … As a senior, had 99 receiving yards to go with 35 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and three sacks … Ranked a top-40 overall prospect in the state of South Carolina … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.
Zyeir Gamble — SAF
Sumter, S.C. (Sumter)
Bio: As a senior safety for an 11-2 team that reached the Class 5-A semifinals, recorded 71 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two blocked kicks … All-state selection and Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas pick as a senior … Totaled a school-record 18 interceptions with 354 return yards in his prep career, including nine interceptions with 209 return yards as a junior … Defended 15 passes as a junior and 23 over his final two seasons … Also totaled 179 tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss, five fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles as a prep standout … Had a three-interception game as a junior … Totaled more than 1,000 all-purpose yards with 14 TDs as a junior and nearly 900 yards with five TDs as a senior … Played for coach Mark Barnes at Sumter, helping the program go 39-6 during his four years there … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.
Cahari Haynes — LB
Shelby, N.C. (Burns)
Bio: Early enrollee … Had 92 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and four pass breakups for a 13-2 team that reached the state semifinals during his senior year … Selected to the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas … Named Defensive Player of the Year in the South Piedmont Conference … Over four varsity seasons, totaled 324 tackles with 41 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, six forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries … Recorded 101 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, six sacks and three blocked field goals as a junior … Played for coach David Devine at Burns and helped lead the Bulldogs to a 33-9 record over his final three seasons … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.
Nate Johnson — DE
Gaffney, S.C. (Gaffney)
Bio: Early enrollee … As a senior, totaled 59 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in 11 games for a team that went 9-4 and reached a Class 5-A state semifinal … Selected to the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas … Class 5-A Upper State Defensive Player of the Year and an all-state selection from the South Carolina Football Coaches Association … Spartanburg Herald-Journal Player of the Year … Season-high 10 stops with four tackles for loss and two sacks in a 26-20 win against Spartanburg … Played for head coach Dan Jones at Gaffney … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports … Rated the No. 6 overall prospect in South Carolina and a top-50 edge rusher in the country by On3.
Mitchell Lake — P
Brisbane, Australia (Saint Peters Lutheran)
Bio: Early enrollee … Trained with Prokick Australia, which has produced seven Ray Guy Award winners in the last 10 seasons … Left-footed punter who can kick traditional or rugby style … Rated a two-star prospect by 247Sports … Xavier Subotsch, who punted at App State from 2017-21, was also a product of Prokick Australia … Grew up playing Australian Rules football.
Chris Lawson Jr. — WR
Columbia, S.C. (Ridge View)
Bio: Early enrollee … Had 40 receptions for 673 yards and five touchdowns as a junior … Sidelined by an injury during his senior season … Totaled 102 catches for 1,541 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and 11 touchdowns in high school … Played for coach Derek Howard at Ridge View … Ranked as a top-30 recruit in South Carolina … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.
Mason McHugh — QB
Ferdinand, Idaho (IMG Academy)
Bio: Early enrollee … Graduated from IMG Academy in the spring of 2022 and often trained in Boise (in his home state of Idaho) or in southern California (with Jordan Palmer) during the fall … In 2021, playing for IMG Academy’s White team in Bradenton, Fla., had 31 touchdown passes while completing 159 passes for 2,849 yards for a team that went 10-1 and reached the Sunshine State Independent Association title game … Set an IMG single-game varsity record with 376 passing yards in one game … Played in two spring games during a COVID-altered season in the spring of 2021 at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas … In 2019, threw 20 touchdown passes at Eagle High School in Idaho … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.
Ryan McKinnis — LB
Buford, Ga. (Buford)
Bio: As a senior, totaled 87 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six sacks, eight quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles for a team that went 11-1 … All-Gwinnett County selection … Played as a two-way threat for coach Bryant Appling and helped Buford win state titles during a 14-1 season in 2021 and 13-1 season the year before that … Was a standout sprinter in track and field … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.
AJ Mebane — DE
Durham, N.C. (Southern Durham)
Bio: Early enrollee … In last three years of high school, totaled 229 tackles, 39.5 sacks, 50 tackles for loss and 74 quarterback hurries … Recorded 81 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, six sacks and 29 hurries for a team that went 8-5 and reached the third round of the playoffs in 2022 … Had 117 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and 23.5 sacks as a junior, when he was an honorable mention all-state performer … Had 10 multi-sack games as a junior, with four sacks against Vance County … Also had 433 receiving yards as a senior … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.
Colton Phares — SAF
Beaufort, S.C. (Beaufort)
Bio: All-state honoree was MVP of South Carolina’s North-South All-Star game … Safety had 69 tackles, four interceptions, nine pass breakups, two forced fumbles, one sack and five tackles for loss as a senior for a 13-1 team that won a Class 3-A state title (first state title since 1945) … Also dangerous with the ball in his hands, returned 11 punts for 363 yards with three touchdowns and 14 kickoffs for 388 yards with one touchdown … Rushed 49 times for 598 yards with six touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 349 yards with four touchdowns … Also kicked field goals for Beaufort … Scored two touchdowns while rushing for 198 yards, made seven tackles and broke up one pass in a 41-31 victory in the state championship game … Helped lead Beaufort to a state runner-up finish during a 12-3 season as a junior … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.
DJ Porter — CB
Spartanburg, S.C. (Dorman)
Bio: An all-region performer as an athlete during his senior season … Projects as a cornerback after contributing on both sides of the ball at Dorman … Totaled nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards as a senior, when he had five touchdown catches and seven rushing touchdowns … Rushed for 211 yards and had a 66-yard catch in the same game as a senior … Also played some quarterback for Dorman, passing for five more touchdowns … Played for a 9-3 team coached by Dustin Curtis as a senior … Excelled as one of the top sprinters in South Carolina … Ranked as the No. 10 overall prospect in his state and a top-60 cornerback in the country by On3 … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports … Attended the same high school as fellow Mountaineer Jacoby Pinckney.
Cayden Sweatt — OL
Bremen, Ga. (Bremen)
Bio: An all-state and all-region performer as a prep standout at Bremen … Played in the GACA North-South Junior All-Star game following his junior season … Standout two-way lineman for the Blue Devils … Played for coach Davis Russell at Bremen … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.
Jalik Thomas — SAF
Macon, Ga. (Hutchinson C.C.)
Bio: Early enrollee … Helped lead Hutchinson Community College to the NJCAA national championship game during a three-year stint, including the COVID-affected 2020-21 season, in which he totaled 11 passes defended, 46 tackles, one fumble recovery and 1.5 tackles for loss … Had three interceptions with 97 return yards during 11 games in 2022, including a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown during a two-pick game against Garden City Community College … Had 62 yards on interception returns in that game and a 35-yard interception return against Coffeyville Community College … Played in 10 games during the 2021 fall season … In the 2021 spring season, was named national special teams player of the week after scoring on a 100-yard kickoff return against Butler Community College … Averaged 28.9 yards per kickoff return that season and 23.1 yards for his Hutchinson career … Played safety and quarterback at Central High School, earning all-state honorable mention as a senior … Totaled 899 rushing yards and 820 passing yards as a senior after rushing for 1,052 yards and throwing for 931 more as a junior.
Grant Tucker — WR
Charlotte, N.C. (Charlotte Christian)
Bio: Caught 73 passes for 1,020 yards and 18 touchdowns during his three-year varsity career at Charlotte Christian … Scored 12 receiving touchdowns while catching 36 passes for 529 yards during a senior season in which the Knights went 10-3 and reached the state championship game … Scored touchdowns on all three catches and totaled 141 receiving yards in a 2022 win against Harrells Christian … Also had three touchdowns during a nine-catch, 119-yard showing against Christ School … Rated a four-star prospect and the No. 12 overall recruit in North Carolina by 247Sports.
Trenton Alan Yowe — CB
Calera, Ala. (Coahoma C.C.)
Bio: Early enrollee … Had six passes defended with one interception and 23 tackles in nine games during the 2022 season for Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Miss. … Scored on a 65-yard interception return during a win at Mississippi Delta Community College … Was a top-10 overall recruit in the state of Alabama and a four-star prospect during his prep career at Calera High School … Played in one game and recovered a fumble for Hutchinson Community College during the COVID-affected 2020-21 season … Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports.