Hickory's Michael Henwood will continue his education and football career at Slippery Rock University.

SLIPPERY ROCK – The Slippery Rock University football program announced its 2021 recruiting class. The 15-player group is smaller than The Rock’s typical yearly recruiting class due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. A majority of SRU’s 2020 seniors have elected to return for their final year of eligibility in the fall of 2021, limiting the amount of roster spots available.

“This was a unique year for us in terms of recruiting,” said Head Coach Shawn Lutz. “We were in a really good place because so many of our seniors and upperclassmen are planning to return next fall, which is great for us because we bring back some All-Americans and veteran leaders. But it did limit our ability to add a large recruiting class.

“That said, we did have some spots open up and we recruited pretty aggressively. ...  Every player we signed was at the top of our boards and I’m very pleased with the overall quality of the class.”

The three transfer students all come from NCAA Division I or II programs and all have extensive collegiate experience, while the 12 high school players hail from three different states and Washington, D.C.

“The strength of our program and how many games we’ve been winning is really helping us expand our reach in recruiting,” said Lutz. “We definitely aren’t forgetting about our backyard and we did sign some local and western Pennsylvania kids. But to be able to recruit in New Jersey, Maryland, D.C. and the eastern side of Pennsylvania has really opened up some new opportunities for us in recent years.”

The transfer students include wide receiver Izzy Adeoti from D-I North Dakota, defensive lineman D.J. Adediwura from Fairmont (W.Va.) State and defensive back Hunter Merritt from Mercyhurst. Merritt is a product of Crawford County’s Conneaut Area High.

In addition to the transfer students, Slippery Rock signed 12 high school seniors, including record-setting Hickory High quarterback Michael Henwood.

A 6-foot-2, 175-pound speedster, Henwood helped hoist Hickory to the District 10 Class 3A championship by accumulating more than 3,000 total yards (2,130 passing, 943 rushing) and 34 TDs. He became the first Mercer County QB in history to amass 4,000-plus yards passing and 1,500-plus yards rushing in a career. 

Additionally, Henwood – a 1st-Team Pennsylvania Sports Writers All-State selection – was credited with 37 tackles, 10 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions.

“Michael is one of the best athletes to ever play QB in Mercer County,” Lutz praised. “ ... (He) turned down D-I offers to come play at SRU. ... Lots of athletic ability. Could also be an outside receiver with his versatility. He was the best athlete on his high school team. There is a lot of flexibility with him and we could end up using him all over the field on both sides of the ball.”

Regarding the remainder of his recruiting class, Lutz continued, “Overall, I really believe this is tremendous class. Our offensive system is built around speed and we got a lot of speed and athleticism in this class. We also added some real playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. When you factor in that we really didn’t lose many pieces from the best team in school history, we feel really good about where we are heading into 2021.”

Some of the headliners of the incoming freshman class are running back Xander McClure from New Market, Maryland; tight end Nathan Waltman (Karns City High), offensive lineman Eli Podgorski, cornerback Ali Abdul-Hakim from Washington, D.C. and wide receiver Jemel Carter from Paterson, New Jersey.

“We like the class from top to bottom so it’s hard to point out just a few to highlight,” said Lutz. “But we really believe Xander could be one of the best skill-position players we have signed out of high school in a long time. He’s a big-time playmaker and ‘home run’ threat with the ball in his hands ... Nathan is a ‘beast’ that could step in as a big, physical tight end for us right away. His upside is tremendous ... Eli was one of the best offensive linemen in Pennsylvania last year and his older brother was an All-Region starter for us ... Ali might be the steal of the class. He is a lockdown corner with great feet and athleticism, and Jemel might be the fastest player on the team. He’s a track star coming in from one of the best programs in the country in Paramus Catholic and he’s also going to run track here at The Rock.

“We feel really good about this class, not only for their performance on the field, but also in the classroom,” said Lutz. “The average GPA of this group of guys is 3.3, which shows that we’re not just recruiting for athletic ability. We want guys that will perform well in the classroom and be accountable in athletics and academics.”

Slippery Rock did not play in the fall of 2020 after canceling the season due to the pandemic. The Rock is coming off the best season in school history in 2019 when it won its first 13 games on the way to a 13-1 overall record, Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and NCAA Super Region I titles, national Coach and Player of the Year awards, and a trip to the NCAA semifinals. SRU is the most successful PSAC programs during the last decade, winning 6 of the 9 Western Division titles since 2011 and 3 overall championships.

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