When it comes to places college coaches scour in the hope of finding top recruits, Elkhart is pretty far down the list.
The town of less the 2,000 about 10 miles south of Palestine is a little off the beaten path, which presented a challenge for running back Jeffery Wilson. The small-town star wanted to attract big-time attention from colleges and did just that with a performance that helped him earn a spot in North Texas’ 2014 signing class.
The Elkhart standout rushed for 2,749 yards last season when he was the MVP of District 11-2A, Division I, not to mention a Class 2A all-state selection.
That performance attracted the attention of programs from across the country. Wilson eventually trimmed his options to North Texas, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe.
Wilson (6-feet, 190 pounds) committed to UNT on Sunday after an official visit to the school.
“They offered me pretty early and have always been the No. 1 team,” Wilson said. “I have family in Dallas, and they have a great coaching staff. I liked the coaches, and the players were awesome.”
UNT special teams coordinator and running backs coach Tommy Perry recruited Wilson.
Oral commitments are non-binding. Wednesday is national signing day.
Wilson had always hoped to sign with a team competing on the Football Bowl Subdivision level and will do just that despite playing at a smaller high school.
“It’s really hard to get a scholarship offer from a small school,” Wilson said. “Elkhart is a small town. Teams don’t come there very often, but the people are great.”
Wilson was nearly as comfortable with the people he met at UNT as he is with those he knows so well in his hometown.
“It felt like a good fit for me, sort of like a family,” Wilson said. “I could see myself there for the next four or five years.”
UNT’s history with top running backs and a powerful running game was also appealing to Wilson. UNT has rotated running backs throughout the tenure of head coach Dan McCarney and saw three finish with at least 330 yards last season, including Brandin Byrd. The senior rushed for 1,075 yards.
The Mean Green had three backs finish with at least 500 yards two seasons ago.
Antoinne Jimmerson and Reggie Pegram, who finished with 446 and 338 yards last season, respectively, are scheduled to return next year, when Pegram is expected to have fully recovered from a knee injury that limited him to playing in eight games last season.
Wilson said UNT’s coaches told him he will have a chance to compete for playing time in his freshman season.
Elkhart coach Sam Wells believes Wilson will fit well in UNT’s system.
“Jeffery’s unbelievable,” Wells said. “I have been fortunate to coach some Division I backs and he is the best one I have ever had. He is big, powerful, fast and very physical.”
UNT offered Wilson a scholarship early in the recruiting process and continued to make him a priority as he made a series of visits to other schools, including New Mexico and New Mexico State.
The Mean Green had its chance to make an impression on Wilson when he visited the campus over the weekend. Tight end Marcus Smith served as host to Wilson, who enjoyed his time at the school and opportunities UNT offered.
“I am a running back and love to run it,” Wilson said. “That was one of the factors on my list.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
NORTH TEXAS RECRUITS
The following is a list of players who have orally committed to sign with UNT in 2014:
Player Position School last attended
Jalen Adams WR Moore (Okla.) Southmoore
Fonzale Davis WR Dallas South Oak Cliff
Johnavhon Grahm DE DeSoto
Brandon Garner LB Mansfield Timberview
Tee Goree WR Carthage
Josh Greer QB Navarro College
Willy Ivery RB Sulphur Springs
Shaq Jackson DT DeSoto
Tillman Johnson DE Round Rock McNeil
Andrew Jones CB North Mesquite
Kishawn McClain S Rosenberg Terry
Conner Means QB Deer Park
Chris Miles OL Flower Mound
Jalen Montgomery LB Mesquite
Trevor Moore K Edmond (Okla.) North
O’Keeron Rutherford WR Carthage
A.J. Smith LB Northeastern Oklahoma A&M
T.J. Tauaalo DT Keller Central
Jeffery Wilson RB Elkhart