Mountain West Football: How Did The Class of 2018’s Top Recruits Actually Fare?
Inspired by The Athletic’s Recruited Revisited project, we look back at how Mountain West football’s top 2018 prospects turned out.
Recruiting is an inexact science.
The college football writers at The Athletic recently unveiled Recruiting Revisited for the class of 2018, a series of articles which have historically re-examined how top recruiting classes actually turned out for the programs who brought in football’s most sought-after prospects. Max Olson, in particular, looked back at how each of that national class’s top 100 blue-chippers fared in the college game, from current Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback and 2021 number-one draft pick Trevor Lawrence to former UNLV quarterback Justin Rogers, who spent two years in Las Vegas after transferring in from TCU and recently jumped back into the portal once again.
If nothing else, that dichotomy of outcomes should tell you that recruiting and development successes don’t always go hand-in-hand.
Because those blue-chippers rarely, if ever, find their way to the Mountain West, however, we took it upon ourselves to look back at the conference’s top recruits from 2018, according to the individual ratings assigned by 247Sports, to see what the range of results looked like.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the team which routinely paces the Mountain West in recruiting had far and away the biggest success from 2018 in wide receiver Khalil Shakir. Though he only played sparingly as a freshman later that fall, it didn’t take Shakir much longer to establish himself as the next in a long line of quality Broncos pass catchers by earning an all-conference honorable mention in 2019 and then landing on the first team in both 2020 and 2021.
In all, Shakir finished his Boise State career with 208 receptions for 2,878 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also averaged 5.8 yards per carry as a rusher, as well, chipping in four more scores on the ground.
.@king_khalil2 is no stranger to diving catches
— Boise State Football (@BroncoSportsFB) February 3, 2022
San Diego State
J.R. Justice, a San Diego native who played at the same high school from which Tariq Thompson had come, stayed home with a fair bit of buzz behind him (and not just because he’s former MLB player David Justice’s son). He chose the Aztecs over USC but never panned out after redshirting during the 2018 season. By October 2019, he’d left the program without ever seeing the field and ended up transferring to TCU and, in two years with the Horned Frogs, has yet to see the field in Fort Worth, as well.
Given that the Aztecs’ 2018 class also included Cameron Thomas, William Dunkle and Daniel Bellinger among others, however, it’s fair to say the sting from missing on Justice is probably a small one.
Linebacker Josiah Bradley edged out running back Toa Taua as Jay Norvell’s top recruiting prize in 2018. After excelling on both sides of the ball out of Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, Bradley’s contributions to the Wolf Pack to date have been much more modest. Though Bradley has appeared in 21 games over the last four seasons, he only has 20 career tackles.
Given that all of Nevada’s major contributors at linebacker from 2021 — Lawson Hall, Lamin Touray, and Daiyan Henley — have moved on, though, Bradley may finally get a chance to stick in the starting lineup under new head coach Ken Wilson.
The Rams’ 2018 class wasn’t without prospects who’d end up becoming key contributors, like Dequan Jackson, Devin Phillips, and Trey McBride, but Nikko Hall came in as the program’s second-best rated prospect ever according to 247Sports. He saw a fair bit of action in 2018 with eight receptions and a touchdown in nine total games, but 2019 was a much different story, marred by a suspension for violating team rules and an arrest. By 2020, he was no longer on the roster.
The Bulldogs’ 2018 recruiting class was renowned for its re-establishment of an emphasis on local recruiting, but it was four-star prospect Tyrone Sampson, an offensive lineman from Detroit, that ended up as a surprising big deal. He redshirted during the 2018 season and battled through injuries to make appearances in ten games the following year, making three starts. He played in four games during the abbreviated 2020 campaign, as well, but didn’t play at all in 2021 after coming into the fall as one of eight letterwinners.
The good news? Sampson is back for 2022 and, if healthy, figures to be a key depth piece for an experienced Fresno State offensive line.
San Jose State
The Spartans’ 2018 class ended up being integral to its run to the football title two years later, featuring the likes of Cade Hall, Viliami Fehoko and Nehemiah Shelton, but the top recruit, defensive lineman EJ Ane, was… mostly fine.
Interestingly, Ane’s first extended action with San Jose State came on both sides of the ball in 2018, appearing as both a short-yardage bulldozer on offense in addition to battling in the trenches on defense. After that, he settled in as part of an improving unit, appearing in 40 games over four seasons despite making just one start. In all, he racked up 67 tackles, ten tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks before transferring to Portland State for the 2022 season.
There are 9⃣1⃣ days to San Jose State football kickoff.
In the comeback win vs. Nevada, #91 EJ Ane teamed up with Cade Hall for a HUGE third down stop! pic.twitter.com/NjTjLInd1c
— Inside The Spartans (@InsideSpartans) May 29, 2021