Tyler Haines has built a football roster around three area codes at Urbana University: 937, 513 and 614. The Piqua High School graduate, in his fifth season as Urbana’s head coach, knows the area well.
The Blue Knights have focused their recruiting efforts on southwest and central Ohio, while also keeping an eye on talent from around the country. The result is a roster heavy on local talent — there are six Wayne High School graduates alone on the team — but also full of Division I transfers, including Marcelys Jones, an offensive lineman who played on Ohio State’s national championship team in 2014 and later played at Division II Winston-Salem State.
The NCAA transfer portal has allowed Division II programs like Urbana to connect with anyone and everyone they want.
“A year ago, if a kid was transferring from Michigan State or Miami of Ohio, you might not know about it,” Haines said Tuesday. “With the portal, there are no secrets. Every kid is on the website. You work and make those connections, and you can recruit anyone in the country.”
Urbana opened the season Saturday with a 43-14 victory on the road against West Virginia Wesleyan. The Blue Knights play their home opener at 7 p.m. Thursday against the University of Charleston (W.Va.).
“We’re more talented than we’ve ever been,” Haines said. “We didn’t really know where we stacked up, but based on the first week, we’ve got some guys out there.”
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Among the other former Division I players on the roster are defensive lineman Justice Alexander, a grad transfer from Michigan State, who had a sack in the opener, and Notre Dame grad transfer Brandon Tiassum, also a defensive lineman, who had a tackle for a loss Saturday.
A year ago, Urbana opened the season with three wins in its first four games but ended up with a 5-6 record for the second straight season in part because of bad luck with injuries.
“We had three quarterbacks who went down within the first four games,” said Tom Heffelfinger, a Piqua graduate who is in charge of player personnel and also has the title of Student Success Coordinator. “At that point, when you have a starting quarterback who’s only 17 for the rest of the season, it’s like, ‘What do we do now?’ The good thing is we graduated only five players. We have 22 returning starters.”
The starting quarterback this season is fifth-year senior Eddie Stockett, who suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of the 2017 season and another season-ending injury in the fifth game of the 2018 season. In the 2019 opener, he completed 12 of 26 passes for 192 yards with a touchdown.
Stockett started his career in 2013 when Haines was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He redshirted his freshman season and appeared in four games in 2014 but then left the program and sat out two years. He’s resurrected his career at Urbana.
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“He’s never had a chance to be the guy from start to finish due to injuries or other circumstances,” Haines said. “The one thing I’ve noticed about Eddie is this is his last chance and he’s a leader of the offense. He’s calm. He’s confident. He’s a big guy. He’s 6-5. Sometimes he’s a big target like Ben Roethlisberger. He likes to stay in the pocket and deliver the ball. He’s going ot get hit. He took a couple big hits (in the opener) and got up and kept going. I’m proud of the way he played and look forward to see him continuing to develop.”
Wayne grad Jesse Bray is another player who took a roundabout route to Urbana. He graduated from high school in 2013, originally signed with Tiffin University and played in 2015 at Ventura College (Calif). This is second season at Urbana.
Bray led Urbana with three catches for 93 yards in the opener and caught a 63-yard touchdown pass for the first score of the season.
“We were happy with the result,” Haines said. “We started a little slow. Even though we scored on the third play of the game, the next three drives were three-and-outs. I think every team battles that sluggish start. We were going against a team that has a new head coach and a new coordinator. It took us a while to figure it out. In terms of effort and execution from start to finish, we were happy. We were in control the entire game.”