Though their ship has been rocky of late, University of Cincinnati football coach Luke Fickell and the program's recruiting department are determined to keep things steady and full steam ahead.
Fickell and the Bearcats got another commitment Friday from the 2022 class in three-star defensive lineman Segree Graham of Jacksonville, Florida.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Graham of Bartram Trail High School announced his commitment to Cincinnati on Twitter.
Graham chose the Bearcats over offers from Indiana, Iowa State, Miami, Arkansas and others.
Graham's commitment, Cincinnati's sixth from the 2022 class, gives UC the fifth-ranked class in the nation, according to 247Sports.com.
Graham's commitment comes a week after defensive coordinator and key recruiter Marcus Freeman elected to leave Cincinnati for Notre Dame.
It also comes four days after associate head coach and running backs coach Dan Enos accepted the offensive coordinator position at Maryland, two days after offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock interviewed for the same job at Vanderbilt, and three days after fellow 2022 recruit Mumu Bin-Wahad, a defensive back from Georgia, de-committed from the Bearcats, citing recent "coaching changes."
Despite all of that, the UC football recruiting department planted several billboards throughout the city early Thursday morning featuring the images of Fickell, quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli and defensive line coach Greg Scruggs with the words "We protect our city."
"It shows we're still rolling," Bearcats Director of Recruiting Chad Bowden told The Enquirer. "Obviously, we don't have Free (Freeman), but nothing's changing. ... Everything that's going on with Denbrock. Everything that's going on with Freeman and Enos. Who knows what's going to happen? But at the end of the day, there's still a captain that's running this ship, and that's Coach Fickell."
The billboards are part of the program's "Cincinnati Blitz" campaign, where Fickell and his staff reached out to every high school coach in the area Thursday and Friday as they continue to reload for the future.
Bowden said he and his team purposely chose to put Guidugli and Scruggs on the advertisement, as both the assistant coaches are area products. Guidugli, who played quarterback for the Bearcats from 2001-04 and owns most of the program's passing records, is from nearby Fort Thomas, Kentucky, while Scruggs, a former University of Louisville standout and two-time Super Bowl champion with the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots, is a Cincinnati native who played high school football at St. Xavier.
"We're going to work day and night to make sure that Cincinnati is fighting with teams like Georgia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Clemson," Bowden said. "We truly believe we're the Clemson before Clemson. Clemson, 8-10 years ago, was fighting. They were going to some New Year's Six bowls. We truly feel that we got next."
The Bearcats, who were eighth in the final College Football Playoff rankings, went 9-0 last season, including a win against Tulsa in the American Athletic Conference championship game, before losing to Georgia in the Peach Bowl on Jan. 1. It was the program's first appearance in a New Year's Six Bowl since making back-to-back appearances following the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Fickell is 35-14 in four seasons at Cincinnati, including nine-plus wins in each of the past three seasons.
The 47-year-old father of six and his staff got a jump on the 2021 recruiting class last month during the early signing period. The class, which includes Fickell's oldest son, three-star Moeller offensive lineman Landon Fickell, is the highest rated among the AAC, according to 247Sports.com, and is No. 35 in the Rivals.com listing, besting the No. 39 ranking of UC's 2020 class.
Bowden said Fickell, who signed a contract extension prior to last season that keeps him at the helm of the UC football program through 2026, has told his staff he has no intention of leaving anytime soon.
"He's extremely happy," Bowden said. "I think we're all very happy to be here at Cincinnati. This city deserves so much. It deserves a winner. It hasn't gotten it (lately) with the Reds. It hasn't gotten it with the Bengals. It's going to get it with the Bearcats. We're going to win national championships."