How Austin Peay football dipped into state talent pool to sign Marquez Taylor, Malaki Dowell

Austin Peay football dug deep into the high school football pool in Tennessee as eight of its 22 recruits secured on National Signing Day are from the state. That brings coach Scotty Walden's haul to 30 athletes, including eight from the December signing period.

The Govs got letters of intent from three Tennessee high school running backs: McKenzie three-star back Marquez Taylor (5-foot-10, 171 pounds), White County's Malaki Dowell (5-10, 185) and Davidson Academy running back Courtland Simmons (6-0, 185).

"We started recruiting Courtland when he was a junior and we didn't know if we have a shot at him but we dove in," Walden said. "We had all three of those guys on campus really early and started that foundation early. If we had waited until the season or waited until now, it may not have worked out."

McKenzie's Marquez Taylor (7) runs with the ball as Clay County's Weston Birdwell (22) tries to tackle him during the BlueCross Bowl Class 1A Championship game at Finley Stadium, in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.
McKenzie's Marquez Taylor (7) runs with the ball as Clay County's Weston Birdwell (22) tries to tackle him during the BlueCross Bowl Class 1A Championship game at Finley Stadium, in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

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Taylor had offers from Eastern Kentucky, Buffalo, Middle Tennessee State and Boston College, while Dowell had offers from Tennessee Tech, UT Martin and EKU after running for 3,201 yards and 40 touchdowns last fall as a Class 5A Mr. Football finalist. Taylor led McKenzie consecutive Class A championship game appearances, winning the program’s first title in December. He was also a Class A Mr. Football finalist in 2021.

Oakland High defensive back Jeremiah Collins (6-2, 160) also signed with Walden, as did a pair from Mt. Juliet. Former Golden Bears defensive back Michael Ruttlen, a grad transfer who played college football at Princeton, joins Mt. Juliet star Griffin Throneberry.

Austin Peay's recruiting class received high marks among FCS schools. It was ranked No. 4 by HERO Sports for high school recruits and No. 5 by

"We signed three of the top-50 recruits in the state of Tennessee," Walden said. "That's the most any APSU class has ever had, and ever since I got this job we want to own this state and own this region in recruiting and make sure we recruit in Montgomery County because we don't want to miss out on great talent."

In addition to his December class, Walden has signed 12 players from the Tennessee area. Simmons is a third-generation Gov. His father and grandfather also attended Austin Peay, and Simmons ran for 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns for Davidson Academy last fall.

"Trent Dilfer and UAB brought Courtland (for a visit) the weekend before he saw us," Walden said. "But we just hit it off with the parents and family and the right people."

The Govs captured a share of the ASUN title last fall, going 7-4. Austin Peay athletics director Gerald Harrison unveiled an ambitious plan to move the football program into the FBS by 2025. Walden said that decision helped secure some recruits.

"Going FBS really helped us ,because kids are seeing themselves playing at the highest level," Walden said. "They see the vision of the program and where we're headed and want to be a part of that."

Austin Peay's 2023 signing class

DB Tahir Annoor (5-11, 195) Nashville, Tennessee (Wofford)

LB Zach Avina (6-2, 205) Huntington Beach, California (Golden West College)

WR Jaden Barnes (5-9, 160) Fairburn, Georgia (Langston Hughes HS)

DB Jeremiah Collins (6-2, 160) Murfreesboro, Tennessee (Oakland HS)

DL Marceo Collins (6-3, 265), Ringgold, Georgia (Baylor School)

DL Carson Conner (6-4, 285) Picayune, Mississippi (East Community College)

OL Josiah Drake (6-3, 275) Duncanville, Texas (Duncanville HS)

RB Malaki Dowell (5-10, 185), Sparta, Tennessee (White County HS)

LB Javen Edmiston (6-1, 215) Summertown, Tennessee (Summertown HS)

LB Matt Flint (6-0, 240) Huntsville, Alabama (Western Kentucky)

K/P T.J. Hartley (6-0, 172) Fayetteville, Georgia (Whitewater HS)

WR Brenen Hawkins (6-3, 211) Colleyville, Texas (Kansas State)

DB Benji Johnson (6-4, 215) Hooks, Texas (New Mexico)

LB Tyler Long (5-11, 222) Cincinnati, Ohio (Norfolk State)

WR Khatib Lyles (6-1, 218), El Paso, Texas (North Texas HS)

DB Michael Ruttlen (5-9, 195), Nashville, Tennessee (Princeton grad transfer)

ATH Courtland Simmons (5-10, 185), Nashville, Tennessee (Davidson Academy)

RB Marquez Taylor (5-10, 171), McKenzie, Tennessee (McKenzie HS)

ATH Griffin Throneberry (6-2, 200), Mt. Juliet, Tennessee (Mt. Juliet HS)

QB Ty Watkins (6-3, 220) Cummings, Georgia (South Forsyth HS)

RB Kaden Williams (5-9, 183) Thibodaux, Louisiana (St. James HS)

OL Dane Woodard (6-10, 325) Cathage, Tennessee (Smith County HS)

*LB Frank Caldwell (6-2, 215), Pace Academy (Smyrna, Georgia)

*OL Leo Gonzalez (6-4, 295), Lenoir City, Tennessee (Lenior City HS)

*LB Garrett Hawkins (6-2, 220), Sevierville, Tennessee (Sevier Co. HS)

*OL/DL Jaden McKinney (6-4, 280), Collierville, Tennessee (Collierville HS)

*DL Kyan Miller (6-3, 230), Lexington, Kentucky (Henry Clay HS)

*WR M.J. Singleton (5-10, 170), Lubbock, Texas (Garden City CC)

*OL Ty Williams (6-4, 276), Greeneville, Tennessee (Greeneville HS)

*WR Ashton Nickelberry (5-10, 184), Brandon, Mississippi (Jones County Junior College)

* December early signing class

This article originally appeared on Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle: Austin Peay football: Govs go after Tennessee stars on National Signing Day