October 21, 2017 - Atlanta, Ga: Georgia State Panthers head coach Shawn Elliott watches from the sideline in the first quarter of their game against the Troy Trojans at GSU Stadium Saturday, October 21, 2017, in Atlanta.. PHOTO / JASON GETZ
Photo: Jason Getz
Photo: Jason Getz

Georgia State focuses on trenches, defense on early signing day

Thirteen players made up Shawn Elliott’s second early-signing day class at Georgia State. He’s tasked with restoring the program to its success from his first season, when the Panthers won their first bowl game, after going a disappointing 2-10 last season.

“I think we met some needs,” Elliott said. “You look at the overall class, we’re addressing the needs we have to build this program where it needs to be. It’s certainly headed in the right direction. We have some really, really good football players.”

The class includes four offensive linemen, three defensive linemen, three linebackers and two defensive backs. GSU had young skill-position depth, including three freshmen running backs, allowing an emphasis on loading up the trenches.

Trey Bonner, Luis Cristobal, Ronald Folkes and Thomas Gore comprise the offensive line group. Bonner was a two-time All-region offensive lineman at Jones County High school. Cristobal, the nephew of Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, joins Folkes as offensive linemen signees from the Sunshine State. Gore rounds out the group after playing defensive line at Brentwood Academy in Tennessee, including a pair of sacks in the state semifinals.

On defense, Marcus Anderson from Colquitt County is the premier linebacker add. He posted 74 tackles and eight sacks in his senior season after registering 148 tackles and 6.5 sacks as a junior.

Jay Lepkoske, a two-way star at White County High School, and Jordan Veneziale complete the group. Veneziale set a North Paulding school record with 146 tackles in his final season.

Defensive tackle Javon Dennis joins two former Deerfield Beach teammates, Cornelius McCoy and Despelado Alexandre, at GSU. Elliott feels the Panthers are building a strong pipeline to south Florida, important given the seemingly limitless talent pool.

“We have some strong personalities on our staff who have the tools to recruit in Florida, especially in the lower part,” Elliott said. “We feel like we’re making progress there, we do. It’s a familiar name down in that area now. Georgia State, when you walk into those schools, they’re hearing more and more about Georgia State. … Starting to have some presence there.”

Tahji Gilbert is the lone JUCO player in the group, adding a more experienced player to the defensive line. He transferred from Northwest Mississippi Community college following an impressive career at Morton High school, where he posted 105 tackles, six sacks and three forced fumbles as a senior.

Jaquez Pennimon was a two-way player at Southwest Macon High. He’ll relinquish receiver duties and focus on safety at GSU.

Speedster Tyreke Harrison, from Plant City, Fla., is one of the more intriguing players in the class. The defensive back brings track speed to the table after sweeping district titles in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4X100 relay in spring.

Harrison chose GSU over Iowa State in a tight recruiting battle. The Panthers will give him time at cornerback and safety to find his best fit, Elliott said.

The following players made up the Panthers’ early class:

Player, Pos., Ht., Wt., Hometown

Marcus Anderson, ILB, 5-10, 215, Norman Park

Trey Bonner, OL, 6-3, 278, Gray

Cornelious Brown, QB, 6-5, 180, Calera, Ala.

Jeffrey Clark, DL, 6-0, 265, Powder Springs

Luis Cristobal, OL, 6-0, 301, Miami

Javon Denis, DL, 6-0, 243, Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Ronald Folkes, OT, 6-4, 270, Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Tahji Gilbert, DL, 6-0, 282, Morton, Miss.

Thomas Gore, DL, 6-0, 285, Antioch, Tenn.

Tyreke Harrison, DB, 5-10, 180, Plant City, Fla.

Jay Lepkoske, OLB, 6-1, 204, Sautee Nacoochee

Jaquez Pennimon, DB, 6-0, 185, Macon

Jordan Veneziale, ILB, 6-0, 209, Dallas, Ga.

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