JOPLIN — Missouri Southern announced its first recruiting class under head coach Denver Johnson, who took over the Lions football program last April, a point already past National Signing Day.

JOPLIN — Missouri Southern announced its first recruiting class under head coach Denver Johnson, who took over the Lions football program last April, a point already past National Signing Day.
During his press conference late Wednesday afternoon, Johnson discussed his recruiting philosophy and the arduous rebuilding task ahead for the Lions in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, one of Division II’s power conferences.
“We can’t solve all our issues with one recruiting class,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take several recruiting cycles before we get our roster balanced out with the kind of height, weight and speed, and the things we’re looking for. You can’t do that all in one class. We’ve obviously went heavy into high school. We made a deliberate, purposeful decision to do that and invest heavily into the future. We’re going to try to redshirt as many of these kids as we can.
“There’s a difference between building a team and building a program. We’re committed here to building a program. We could have gone out and signed 45 junior college guys again, if we wanted to try and field a team, but you’re not making progress on building a program. We’ll continue to recruit junior college guys, but we’ll have to bring it back into balance.”
Southern finished last season 11th in the 12-team MIAA, with its 1-10 record better than winless Nebraska-Kearney. The MIAA fielded two national playoff teams (Northwest Missouri, Emporia State) and two bowl teams (Fort Hays, Central Oklahoma), with the Bearcats of Northwest Missouri rolling through a national title season 15-0.
The Lions finished their season on an eight-game losing streak after their lone win against the Lopers and were outscored 447-220 by their opponents, despite closer losses against Washburn (27-21) and Lindenwood (34-30).
Throughout his press conference, Johnson mixed in some colorful metaphors.
“Many times this past year, I felt like a substitute teacher,” Johnson said. “When we got to that last game, it was the first time that we felt that we were in sync with the calendar, as far as building our program. We’re excited about that. We’re confident in our plan. Again, it’s going to take time. I got patience, but I’m also anxious.”
The Lions recruited mostly high school players, including talent from their own backyard like Neosho’s Devin Hames, Lukas Werneke and Jordan White, Monett’s Jonah Paszek and Aurora’s Gerrit Montgomery. Former McDonald County standout Austin Grotts, who redshirted last season at Southwest Baptist, signed on with Southern.
Southern also reached into the fertile recruiting grounds of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama and Arizona for talent.
One recruit, however, brings experience nobody else in Southern’s recruiting class can match: 6-foot-3, 305-pound defensive lineman Christian Littlehead played two seasons (2011-12) at Oklahoma State.
“I’ve known his daddy for a long time,” Johnson said. “Coach (Kenny) Evans knew the family well, also, and Brayden Scott, the youngster that we have here on campus that will be competing for a quarterback job next fall, has a tie there, as well. We all knew him coming out of high school and playing at Oklahoma State. He wound up having some difficulties there and was working in Broken Arrow. We reached out to him. He wanted to resurrect his career. We’re excited to have him. He’s going to be a special player for us.”
During his freshman season, Littlehead earned a spot on the Big 12’s all-freshman team for a season of 16 tackles (13 solo, 3 assist) and one quarterback sack. As a sophomore, he played in eight games and recorded four tackles.

Signing briefs
• Pittsburg State signed 45 recruits, 36 high school seniors and nine transfers. The Gorillas’ notable signees include Memphis transfer and cornerback DeShaughn Terry (25 tackles and two pass breakups last season for the 9-4 Tigers), Abilene Christian transfer and offensive lineman Codey Funk, Rossville (Kan.) standout Tucker Horak and Carthage quarterback Alex Derryberry (merely listed as athlete).
• Defending national champion Northwest Missouri announced 28 signings — nine from Nebraska, eight from Missouri, three from Florida, three from Iowa, two from Illinois and one each from Wisconsin, Texas and Kansas.

Missouri Southern Recruiting Class
Taylor Allen, 6-2, 300, OL, San Antonio (Texas), Tom C. Clark HS
Austin Archey, 6-0, 220, LB, Poteau (Okla.), Poteau HS
Dominque Atkinson, 5-10, 270, Shawnee Mission (Kan.), Butler CC
Akel Beard, 6-1, 230, LB, Keller (Texas), Byron Nelson HS
Josiah Bennett, 6-7, 220, WR/TE, Odessa, Odessa HS
Keith Beverly, 5-10, 170, CB, Florissant, Parkway North HS
Torey Blevins, 6-3, 185, ATH, Phoenix (Ariz.), North HS
Martin Cano, 6-1, 285, OL/DL, Grand Prairie (Texas), Grand Prairie HS
Austin Carter, 6-4, 205, QB, Oak Point (Texas), Little Elm HS
Patrick Cheek, 5-11, 190, DB, Hayward (Calif.), Laney CC
Quintahj Cherry, 5-10, 180, QB/ATH, Muskogee (Okla.), Muskogee HS
Jevonte Cross, 6-1, 241, LB, Tulsa (Okla.), Sam Houston State
Deshon Cowling, 6-0, 176, RB/WR, Brundidge (Ala.), Pike County HS
Eric Dedrick Jr., 6-5, 225, TE/HB, Dallas (Texas), Pima CC
Josh Dorsey, 6-1, DT, St. Louis, North Dakota State College of Science
Jaylynn Dye, 5-11, 161, WR, Van Buren (Ark.), Van Buren HS
Keenen Ferrier, 5-8, 165, WR, Oologah (Okla.), Talala HS
Trevor Flores, 6-1, 165, WR, Missouri City (Texas), Ridge Point HS
Shane Gosson, 6-1, 190, QB/ATH, Missouri City (Texas), Ridge Point HS
Austin Grotts, 6-5, 330, OL, Noel, McDonald County HS, Southwest Baptist
Devin Hames, 6-0, 195, RB/ATH, Neosho, Neosho HS
Braylon Harris, 5-10, 215, RB/ROV, Maumelle (Ark.), Central Ark. Christian HS
Anthony Hardin, 6-5, 345, OL, Nixa, Ozark HS
LaVelle Houston, 5-11, 285, OL/DL, Calumet City (Ill.), Mount Carmel HS
Michael Johnson Jr., 5-10, 190, RB, Plainfield (Ill.), Joliet Catholic HS
Christian Littlehead, 6-3, 305, DL, Broken Arrow (Okla.), Oklahoma State
Demontra McNealy, 6-4, 245, TE, Auburn (Wash.), Butte College
Gerrit Montgomery, 6-5, 255, OL/DL, Aurora, Aurora HS
Jeremiah Moore, 6-2, 290, OL/DL, Tallahassee (Fla.), James S. Rickards HS
Bill Nixon, 6-3, 220, OL/LS, Grove (Okla.), Northeastern Oklahoma A&M
Maliq’ Owens, 6-1, 195, DB, Sherman (Texas), Sherman HS
Jonah Paszek, 6-1, 182, WR/DB, Monett, Monett HS
Chadd Perry, 6-1, 195, DB, Sherman (Texas), Sherman HS
Nic Preston, 6-2, 198, LB, Hazelwood, Pattonville HS
Roc Robbins, 6-1, 215, LB, Talala (Okla.), Collinsville HS
Nicholas Roller, 6-0, 230, RB, Bixby (Okla.), Bixby HS
Hunter Sidwell, 6-6, 265, OL/DL, St. Joseph, Savannah HS
Austin Skelton, 5-11, 188, WR/KR, Poteau (Okla.), Poteau HS
Elijah Smith, 6-1, 285, OL, Norman (Okla.), Norman HS
Douglas Stevens, 6-2, 170, WR/ATH, Mineral Wells (Texas), Mineral Wells HS
Alexander Wade, 5-11, 187, DB, Richmond (Texas), George W. Bush HS
Darrius Walker, 6-4, 240, TE, Grandview, Grandview HS
Brendan Watkins, 5-9, 175, RB, Olathe (Kan.), Olathe Northwest HS
Lukas Werneke, 6-3, 220, TE/DE, Neosho, Neosho HS
Jordan White, 6-4, 270, OL/DL, Neosho, Neosho HS
Kendall Williams, 6-0, 225, RB, Little Rock (Ark.), Butte College
Cameron Wood, 6-6, 265, OL/DL, Claremore (Okla.), Oologah HS