ALLENDALE, Mich. — The Grand Valley football program has inked 43 recruits in the 2021 recruiting class.
While head coach Matt Mitchell admits the number may seem high, he says the Lakers were able to sign players they may typically miss out on due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Here's the reality of it, Division One played football but couldn't recruit because of their dead period but Division Two didn't play football and could recruit," explained Mitchell, "I think you're seeing the effect of that."
The Lakers coaching staff hit the ground hard after the fall cancellation, recruiting players from Michigan and bordering states especially hard.
Coach Mitchell and his staff built an extra emphasis on West Michigan for this recruiting class, signing five players from the FOX 17 viewing area including Rockford defensive back Luke McLean.
"We're really excited," Mitchell said, "Luke McLean is a legacy recruit, his older brother is on our team, his dad played here and we have really strong ties with Rockford High School."
McLean says he's extremely excited to play with his older brother but it was all about the family-like atmosphere in Allendale.
"Grand Valley really wanted to know how I was as a person," McLean added, "not just athletically but academically and how my family is doing. They were really touching in that way, that really separated them from other schools I thought."
Rockford's Luke McLean is officially signed with @gvsufootball where he'll follow in his dad & older brother's footsteps with the Lakers.— Zach Harig (@FOX17Zach) February 3, 2021
"It's something we've dreamed of for a really long time." pic.twitter.com/AEQPdF3FPq
From a school with strong ties to GVSU to a new connection, the Lakers were able to sign Muskegon defensive back Tyreese Oakes despite a lot of FBS interest.
"We're thrilled to go into Muskegon High School, a very historic and strong program under Shane Fairfield," Mitchell said, "his recruitment had a lot of FBS schools and things going on."
And Oakes says his connection with the coaching staff was what drew him to Grand Valley.
"I talked to a lot of coaches during this recruitment but it was just a quick talk on the phone to see how I'm doing in school or asking me for a transcript," Oakes said about his recruitment. "However, Grand Valley went deep into it, they really found out who I am and I found out who they were."
Muskegon's Tyreese Oakes is signed, sealed, delivered with @gvsufootball. He says it's a "weight off of his shoulders" and Grand Valley's family atmosphere is what stood out most.@OnMuskegon pic.twitter.com/EiKTHfhB1m— Zach Harig (@FOX17Zach) February 3, 2021
Meanwhile, a dream came true for a small-town kid in Schoolcraft's Jimmy Downs, as he also signs with the Lakers currently slated to play linebacker.
"I'm a kid from a small school," Downs said, "a small Division 7 school, so you don't really see kids come out of a small school like that being able to play at an elite program like that."
Mitchell is excited to get a do-it-all athlete like Downs.
"You have to put him somewhere," Mitchell laughed when asked about Downs being listed at linebacker, "but he does so many things for that Schoolcraft team - he runs the ball, catches the ball, does special teams, big in the return game, plays linebacker and plays safety."
Schoolcraft's Jimmy Downs is now signed with @gvsufootball - he says it's a dream come true for a kid that grew up in a small town and now makes the jump from a Division 7 high school program to the GLIAC.— Zach Harig (@FOX17Zach) February 3, 2021
More from Jimmy tonight during @FOX17 News! pic.twitter.com/lgK1ZFkxh6
The Lakers have already opted out of the spring season and will turn their focus to this fall.