The best signing day in Division II?
In one form or another, football in the state of Michigan has been taken by storm by Tony Annese and his staff for decades.
Annese is well known for his time in the Michigan high school ranks, where he went a combined 195-41 in 22 seasons, and really got things rolling during his last prep stop at Muskegon HS (MI) where he went 92-15 with three state titles in his last five seasons. From there he went on to turn around the Grand Rapids Community College program, instantly turning them into national title contenders and winning NJCAA regional coach of the year each of his three years there.
This past season, Annese spent his first season in Big Rapids at Ferris State University (D-II - MI) where he helped the Bulldogs go 7-4 in the very competitive GLIAC, while finishing in the top 15 nationally in rushing (#6 - 306 ypg) and total offense (#14 - 474 ypg).
That kind of first year success, combined with an energetic staff with deep Michigan ties (and some excellent former high school coaches) that Annese has put together helped them reel in one of the most highly regarded classes in all of Division II.
When Annese took over the program, he told his staff that they needed to target winners first, as well as Division I talent if they were going to accomplish the goals that they had put in place, and his staff has done exactly that in their inaugural season on the recruiting trail.
27 of the 33 prep players that they signed played in the state playoffs, including one state title winner, and one runner up (as well as a JUCO player that won the national title). They even went down into one of the most tradition rich programs in Florida and pulled a few guys from the nationally ranked program at Manatee HS. They also picked out a couple "three star" players from their own back yard that had drawn considerable Division I interest during the recruiting process.
When Annese brought his staff to Ferris, many people initially doubted his ability to recruit because of his high school background. During their signing day presser, Annese noted another former high school coach that took signing day by storm to prove that regardless of background, you can out-work people on the recruiting trail.
"When we took this job, a lot of people talked about a lot of us being high school coaches that recruiting would be different. And if anyone is watching the national news, Hugh Freeze is stealing the show at Ole Miss, and he was a high school coach up until 2004. Not to say that we're comparing ourselves to Hugh Freeze, but it can be done with a bunch of guys like us."
While they may not be at Hugh Freeze's level, Annese's staff undoubtedly collected one of the best classes in Division II, and talking with their coaches, you can hear and feel the excitement in their voices for the future of the Ferris State program. Signing day in Big Rapids showed that recruits heard that message loud and clear, and want to be a part of future success.
Hear more from Annese on the class their bringing in below.